Archive for the 'UI' Category

Touch screen and the desktop

I just posted a response over on a CNET discussion topic. As often is the case, rather than write, review, edit and post; I banged away a response and submitted, as always I made a few typo’s, so here is a corrected version.

I’ve just retired from an senior engineering position at Dell, specializing in software and firmware but I also participated in a number of usability studies for hardware/software combinations. I was the originator of the NFC enabled server systems management concept. I’d offer a few thoughts to confirm what some others have said, but also a slightly different perspective.

1. yes reaching across a keyboard to a monitor mounted at the back of a desk is ergonomically unpleasant.

2. Touch is an interesting technology, but for fixed monitors and TV’s etc. it is less than optimal. There are numerous efforts underway to come up with a more responsive, natural way to control a UI. Think X/BOX or Nintendo, or the Samsung SmartTV gestures, voice ala Amazon echo etc.

3. That said, I for one would never go back to a non-touch laptop screen. I can lift my arm from the keyboard and prod the “submit post” button below much quicker that I can use the touchpad, or grab an extrnal mouse and click.

4. If you want a touch screen desktop I’d highly recommend getting an all-in-one with a touch screen and mounting it into a desk. I had one of the Dell XPS 27’s and had an IKEA draftmans desk. We cut a hole 99% the size of the screen; mounted the screen into the hole; secured it with picture wire in a # format across the back. I gave up using a physical keyboard and mouse, bought a Targus Stylus and went 100% touch. The advantage of the IKEA desk is that you can easily angle the surface to one that suits you. Also, it came with a medal lip which stopped things sliding off the edge; also it came with a built in glass area, which was great for to-do lists, notes etc.

One final note, on Touch screen PC’s. As with Windows 10, when switching over to touch screen you have to try to stop doing the way you did them with a mouse and keyboard. The Adobe PDF app for Windows 10, is much easier to use than the Adobe desktop app for Windows 10. Using a drawing program for line art, block diagrams etc. either with your finger, or with a stylus is a huge leap forward to messing about with Word and Powerpoint. In the case of slides, and powerpoint, it made me released me from decades of serial text mode slides.

So rather than ask why so few touch screens for desktop computers. Ask, what are top-5 applications I use, and how could touchscreen make them better, easier, or me more productive. If it’s email, calendar and web browsing, it probably won’t. Although even in those cases, zoom in and zoom out is an improvement.

Growing software influence and Dell

A few things have happened in the last couple of months that show the growing influence and maturity of the software team at Dell, and it’s been on my backlog to write up as a blog post.

DMTF VP of Regional Chapters

Yinghua Qin, the Senior Software Manager in our Zuhai China laboratory has been accepted as the new VP of Regional Chapters at the DMTF. This is an outstanding opportunity for Yinghua, who leads the Foglight and a number of software engineering projects, as well as serves as the local liaison to Sun Yat-sen University(SYSU) school mobile engineering (SMIE). Yinghua reports to the Foglight lead architect Geoff Vona.

Dell actually has at various stages in the past been very proactive with the DMTF. Current board chair, Winston Bumpus, was formally a Dell employee; My ESG colleague Jon Haas has been a major contributor to a number of standards. I for one am looking forward to the increased cooperation that working in international standards can bring.

Open Source Project

The Dell Cloud Manager product development team have open sourced their blockade test tool. Blockade is a utility for testing network failures and partitions in distributed applications. Blockade uses Docker containers to run application processes and manages the network from the host system to create various failure scenarios.

It’s a small step, but congratulations to Tim Freeman and the team for navigating through the process to produce the first new open source development project from the Dell Software Group team.

Angular giveback

A number of our development teams are using Angular.js. Once again after an original approach in November by Sara Cowles from the Dell Cloud Manager team stepped forward and asked the right questions, after checking with other teams, I was happy to sign the Google CLA to fax back to google.

Yocto – Embedded Linux and Beyond

Congratulations also go to Mikey Brown from Dells’ Enterprise Systems Group(ESG). Mikey has picked up the mantle of a project I was a big supporter of, when I was in ESG, Yocto. After doing a great job getting a couple of our embedded Linux offering back on track using Yocto, and the build infrastructure around. Mickey has re-connected with the Yocto team.

Each of these on their own are small steps, but these plus a number of other things going on give me a good feeling things are heading in the right direction. I’ll get to go have another facsinating time hearing from students about how things look from their side of the technology field when I head over to Texas A&M University(Insert “GO AGGIES” here!) to address class 481 on 2/25.

What’s on your glass?

James Governor, @monkchips, makes some great points about UI design in his latest blog post. James discusses how Adobe is changing it’s toolchain to better support, endorse HTML5 and how open is a growth accelerator, not just a philosophical perspective. He get’s a useful plug in for the Dell Streak, and it as a piece of glass too 😉

I’ve alluded to it here before, we are heading in the same direction for both our PowerEdge 12g Lifecycle Controller and iDrac UI for one to one management of our servers; also for the simplified UI for the Virtual Integrated System, aka VIS. Flash/Flex/Silverlight had their time, they solved problems that at the time couldn’t be solved any other way. However, it was clear to me and I suspect to all those involved in the HTML5 standards efforts, that we were headed down a dead end of walled gardens“. What put this in perspective for me wasn’t James’ post, but one from fellow Redmonk, Cote, last year in which he discussed the web UI landscape.

Web UI Landscape by Cote of Redmonk

The details actually were not important, Cote ostentatiously discussing Apache Pivot, summarizes by saying “Closed source GUI frameworks have a tough time at it now-a-days, where-as open source ones by virtue of being free and open, potentially have an easier time to dig into the minds of Java developers.”

 

But really, it was the diagram that accompanied the article for me. It laid it the options as a flower, and as we know, flowers are grown in gardens, in this case, each was being cultivated in its’ own walled garden.

I cancelled the FLASH/WSMAN[1] proof of concept we’d built for the gen-next UI, and decided the right move was to adopt a more traditional MVC-like approach using open standards for our UI strategy.

We don’t have a commitment yet to deliver or exploit HTML5, but we’ve already adopted a REST style using HTTP for browser and HTML clients to interact with a number of our products, using Javascript and JSON and building towards having a foundation of re-useable UI artifacts. Off the back of this we’ve already seen some useful Android pilots.

Which takes us back to James post. He summarizes with “If the world of the API-driven web has taught us anything its that you can’t second guess User Interfaces. Someone else will always build one better. If you’re only allowing for deployment on one platform that cuts you off from innovation.” – Right on the money.

DISCLOSURE:
Redmonk are providing technology analysis for Dells Virtual Integrated System; James and I have professional contacts since 1996.

NOTES:
[1]WSMAN remains our key technology implementation for external partners and consoles to use to get information from the servers, and to send updates etc.

Flash, Flex, the real web experience and eating your own dog food

I watched with interest a few weeks back when Apple Steve Jobs launched into positioning Apple products, namely the iPad against other soon-to-be tablet PC’s. Now this isn’t a robust defense of the Dell Streak (5-inch) Internet phone/wifi device/tablet, it is commentary on what happened next.

A few days later, RIM CEO Jim Balsillie fired back at Jobs with a great media qoute about Apples “Distortion Field”. Saying amongst other things that the RIM 7-inch tablet aka Playbook, will get a good market share and that “we know that Adobe Flash support actually matters to customers who want a real web experience”.

Blackberry Torch 6 Home screen

Blackberry Torch 6 Home screen

Which brings up an interesting point. I just got a brand new Blackberry Torch, which has Blackerrys latest 6.0 OS, a touch screen and some really nice software and service integration that combines RSS, Facebook and Twitter feeds together. The phone has also been pretty reliable in my first 3-weeks of use, I’ve only had to remove the battery once to force a reboot.

Every time I visit a web page that has flash, the webkit enabled browser reports “This graphic requires version 9 or higher of Adobe Flash Player.” and provides a helpful link to “Get the latest Flash Player”. Sadly, clicking on that link just gets the screen that has welcomed a million* iPhone users…

“Sorry Adobe Flasy Player is not available from adobe.com for your device’s operating system or browser”

And thats that. So, Mr Balsillie, where’s my real web experience on your flagship phone product?

Of course, this disappointment was made all the more ironic in that last week I got an email from Brian Gladden, Chief Financial Officer, Ron Garriques, President, Communication Solutions, and Robin Johnson, Chief Information Officer here at Dell announcing that they will be moving all Dell-issued Blackberry phone users over to Dell based devices like the Dell Streak Tablet and Dell Aero Smartphone over the next 2-years as Blackberry contracts expire.

Now thats great news as I’m a big believer in eating your own dogfood, something we didn’t do often enough at IBM. Getting IT Suppliers and manufacturers to use their own new products is a key move in my opinion. It’s one of the things that drove some great innovation into the early virtual machine operating systems at IBM. However, our internal IT team are under just as much pressure to modernize and adapt new technology, possibly more so than our customers. Adopting these Dell devices will give us some valuable experience in what our customers will have to go through.

For my part, Dell IT already have deployments of our Advanced Infrastructure Manager (AIM) and getting good results. In the design and architecture for VIS, we’ve so far managed to avoid and eliminate any use of flex/flash technology in our User Interface design and requirements, and that is great at it means we have a greater freedom of action by being able to develop for a much wider range of devices, and still deliver a quality interface and user experience.

*OK, ok, millions and millions…

Cote on Consumer to Enterprise

REST Interface slide from Cote presentation

REST Interface slide from Cote presentation

Over on his people over process blog, Redmonk Analyst, Michael Cote, has what is a great idea, a rehersal of an upcoming presentation including slides and audio.

The presentation covers what technology is making the jump from the consumer side of applications and IT into the enterprise. I’m delighted to report Cote has used a quote from me on REST.

For clarification, the work we are doing isn’t directly related to our PowerEdge C-servers, or our cloud services. For that, Dell customer Rackspace cloud has some good REST API‘s and is well ahead of us, in fact I read a lot of their documentation while working on our stuff.

On the other hand, I’m adamant that the work we are doing adding a REST-like set of interfaces to our embedded systems management, is not adding REST API’s. Also, since I did contribute requirements and participate in discussions around WS-* back when I was IBM, I’d say that we were trying to solve an entirely different set of problems, and hence now REST is the right answer, to externalize the data needed for a web based UI.

At the same time, we will also continue to offer a complete implementation of WS Management(WSMAN). WSMAN is a valuable tool to externalize the complexity of a server, in order for it to be managed by an external console or control point. Dell provides the Dell Management Console (DMC) which consumes WSMAN and provides one-to-many server management.

The point of the REST interfaces is to provide a simple way to get data needed to display in a Web UI, we don’t see having to expose all the same data, and can use a much more lightweight infrastructure to process it. At the same time, it’s the objective of this project to keep the UI simple for one-to-one management. Customers who want a more complex management platform will be able to use DMC, or exploit the WSMAN availability.

REST, UI and embedded systems managent

I’ve been busy for the last week or so on the corporate re-inventing Dell initiative, but was in early this morning for the last of a long set of demos, and socialization efforts internally, where I’ve been showing people the early results of the REST Systems Management design we’ve been working on, plus the new embedded User Interface and Dell UI Framework that we are developing to exploit it. I plan to start sharing some information on that in the coming weeks as well as to get feedback and input. It’s been another great week here in Round Rock!

Leave a comment or send me an email if your are really interested in the REST project, I’ll send you something before I can post here.

70% of something is better than..

70% of nothing at all. [With apologies to Double Exposure]

As I’ve said before, I’m an avid reader of Robin Bloors Have Mac Will Blog, blog. I also follow him on twitter where he is @robinbloor. Sadly his blog doesn’t accept trackbacks, but I’ll leave a short comment so he gets to see this.

His latest blog entry, CA:Dancing with dinosaurs comes across as a bit of a puff piece in support of Computer Associates.

On the CA involvement with mainframes, Bloor seems to have overlooked the fact that CA has John Swainson as CEO, and Don Ferguson as Chief Architect. John was previously an IBM VP, Don an IBM Fellow and both Don and John were variously in charge of significant IBM Software Group projects/products.

Personally I’d like to see someone from IBM find/quote a source for that 70% data number. It’s been used for years and years with little or no foundation. Jim Porell quoted this number in some of his excellent and more recent System Z strategy presentations, It’s dated from, I think, 1995.

Secondly, I’d guess it depends what you can business critical data these days. If Google collapsed or had their data centers in Silicon Valley interrupted with the loss of Google docs, YouTube, Google search, Maps and similarly Microsoft and/or Yahoo went offline… I’d suspect the whole notion that 70% of business critical data resides of mainframes would be laughable. Yes, a large percentage of purely text based transactional data is on mainframes and yes the value of those transactions exceeds any other platform, but that is far from 70% of anything much these days… Increasingly these days startups, SME’s and Web 2.0 business don’t use mainframes for even their text based transactional data.

Finally on the Bloor/CA assertion that installing mainframe software is arcane. That maybe, but here I’m still in full agreement of the mainframe folks, especially if you are talking about real mainframe software as IBM would have it, installed by SMP/E. One of my few claims to fame was reverse engineering key parts of the IBM Mainframe VM service process nearly 20-years now. It was then, and SMP/E is now, still is years ahead of anything in the Windows and UNIX space for pre-req, co-req, if-req processing; the ability to build and maintain multiple non-trivial systems from a single data store using binary only program objects. CA are not the first to spot the need to provide an interface other than ISPF and JCL to build these jobs streams.

But really, continuing to label mainframes as dinosaurs is so 1990’s, it’s like describing Lance Armstrong as a push bike rider.

Simon Perry, Principal Associate Analyst – Sustainability, Quocirca, has written a similar piece with a little more detail entitled Mainframe management gets its swagger.


About & Contact

I'm Mark Cathcart, formally a Senior Distinguished Engineer, in Dells Software Group; before that Director of Systems Engineering in the Enterprise Solutions Group at Dell. Prior to that, I was IBM Distinguished Engineer and member of the IBM Academy of Technology. I'm an information technology optimist.


I was a member of the Linux Foundation Core Infrastructure Initiative Steering committee. Read more about it here.

Subscribe to updates via rss:

Feed Icon

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 924 other followers

Blog Stats

  • 83,958 hits