DVD Format Wars? Ho Hum

Excellent description of the decision process that led to Microsoft backing Toshiba’s new DVD format. But I have to say I’m puzzled at the level of attention devoted to this by the tech press. Everyone seems to think we’re still arguing about betamax versus VHS.

When people argued about VHS versus betamax, it’s because VCRs were new, and people thought the packaging mattered. We’ve been through so many media distrubution mechanisms now that people don’t care. Twenty different codecs? No problem. Ten different memory stick formats for your pictures and video? No problem. CD-R, R/W, R+, DVD, DVD DL? No problem. Firewire, USB2? No problem. All consumers know is that their iPod cable isn’t going to work with their Sony device, and that’s life.

Besides, this has got to be the last gasp for disconnected media distribution. Take a 25GB file, and then make several million completely redundant copies of it for distribution? That’s the most ridiculous caching and distribution algorithm you can imagine. Hard drive space is cheaper than DVD media now, yet the industry is going to blow billions to deploy a newer and more expensive DVD format that holds just a small amount more? People will use the new discs if, and only because, they have to. We’re used to that.

Troubling Exits?

Derek Denny-Brown has left Microsoft. I was fortunate to be able to PM for Derek for about a year, and I learned a ton. Derek worked on the very first XML stack at Microsoft, and touched pretty much every XML product we shipped, from the time it was unknown to all but SGML-heads up until today’s XML-everywhere. Most recently, he’s been working on XML tools (which you saw at PDC) with my friend Stan, and his absence will be felt, but I think he left the team in good shape.

When I talked with Derek before he announced his exit, one of my concerns was that people would see it as him being fed up with Microsoft. I had talked with him a number of times over the years, and knew that he really wanted a smaller environment with more direct engagement with customers. It’s a shame we couldn’t find something like that within Microsoft, but he is working with a good team at his new place and this is no huge surprise. It’s just unfortunate that his announce coincided with BusinessWeek’s “Troubling Exits” article.

Speaking of the BusinessWeek article, I have to say it was rather disappointing. The article takes some one-sided anecdotes and tries to paint a picture of crisis, but also admits that, objectively, turnover is low and morale is high. If turnover is low, and morale is high, then why is there even a story? I actually think it’s worth doing a story on Microsoft’s challenges, but pointing to a couple of employees leaving is the wrong starting point. The fact is, Microsoft has always had a very open and self-critical culture (as I’ve explained from day one on this blog), so at any point in time you’ll be able to write a whole news story about employee complaints. Other companies have developed reputations for silencing and/or firing employees who blog critically. That doesn’t mean that their employees are any happier.

And speaking of morale, just wait until you start seeing the “biggest innovation pipeline in Microsoft’s history” roll to RTM. Through some strange accident of history, and after years of delays, several product units are poised to ship simultaneously. People are already getting giddy, and I predict by springtime the local authorities will have trouble dealing with the spillover of irrational exuberance. I also predict prozac stock takes a hit.

Panel: Future of RSS

One of the fun things I got to do for this year’s PDC was to help organize a panel on “The Future of RSS”. I am sitting in the front row right now.

Summary: great audience interaction. The audience was a mix of people who were relatively new to RSS, people implementing in LOB and ISV apps, and people pushing the edges.

One minute until session start, where is Amar? And Doug? 🙂

Happy days; all the panelists made it. Left to right: Scoble (moderator). Amar Gandhi (MSFT RSS), Jeff Barr (Amazon), Sanaz Ahari (start.com), Greg Reinacker (Newsgator), Mike Ehrenberg (MSFT MBS/CRM), Doug Purdy (MSFT Indigo).

Scoble: What about Auth
Jeff: See Greg’s recent blog post. HTTPS and basic auth work well.
Doug: Talking about how RSS can be an application protocol within SOAP. Solves some SOAP Auth problems.
Greg: No need to wait, though

Scoble: What about expiry?
Greg: Use 410
Sanaz: Encountered scenarios like this in start.com, will support gadgets with expiry.

Scoble: What about large payloads?
Jeff: Bittorrent
Amar: Auth, Bittorrent. Vista uses BITS.

Audience: We wrote a feed about arrival of documents in C++. What are platform pieces availables to someone dynamically generating feeds from data.
Jeff Barr: Do you mean ping protocols?
Mike: Problem is very similar to what we’re doing in CRM. We have to build ourselves.
Doug: You could use WCF to build it, but no specific feature to support push–>pull mapping. Maybe we should build it. He doesn’t mention the RSS formatter.
Scoble: Greg, is this a sync scenario?
Greg: We sync between agrregators. Planning to sync with Vista platform
Amar: Different meanings of sync.

Audience: In business scenarios of RSS, we care more about being able to track who is using what, filter.
Mike: We track and audit based on authentication. Also filter. User account only goes so far; need roles eventually.
Greg: Newsgator Enterprise uses AD groups
Jeff Barr: Public perception is that RSS is public, blogs, but there are 10s of thousands of intranet feeds.
Sanaz: Feeds have ads, but advertisers worry about losing tracking information. However, you get other benefits from using RSS; know what topics the readers are interested in, etc.

Audience: Tell me more about auth with externals and roles?
Mike: Using local copy of AD is not good; you need to share auth roles with the partner. Federated security is promising.
Doug: Federated security.
Umbraco: Don’t necessarily need the “perfect” solution. Some of the problems are social.

Audience: KISS. If you keep extending RSS, at what point does it become just another XML protocol.
Amar: It’s a vocabulary for representing data items; that seems a good place to keep it.
Doug: Agreed. As soon as you start introducing infrastructure notions, you’ve gone too far. Again mentions embedding RSS in SOAP a couple of times.

Audience: I’m evangelizing blogging in Intel. When people ask me about auth, I just ask “what are you doing today?” It’s often a solved problem.

Audience: Can RSS solve phishing and scamming problems.
Doug: Replace e-mail with RSS?
Scoble: For some corporate scenarios, it will
Jeff: RSS is the ultimate opt-in.
Greg: There is work being done on identity verification of feeds.
Doug: Could use XML DSIG. Or use SSL and sign with certificate.

Audience: As you introduce extensions, does this replace RDF? Do you need to handle schema for extensions?
Amar: Talking about microformats with technorati, simple extensions and the social feedback loop. If you get into ontologies and taxonomy, it’s squishy.

Audience: What about overlapping results?
Scoble: Sites publish the same feed in multiple formats.
Jeff: There is a way to do unique ID per article, but few people use it. Makes it complicated. People use notepad to write RSS. Hard to force people to implement.
Doug: We’ll never get rid of uuidgen.
Scoble: Updates show as dups, can you fix that Greg?
Greg: Upgrade to the latest build. People should use guids, though, because it works better.

Audience: I want to run Outlook rules on RSS items to kick off workflow. Can I do this?
No obvious answer for Newsgator or Outlook 12. Maybe use

Todd Bishop from Seattle-PI: How does Outlook aggregator affect Newsgator.
Greg: RSS everywhere increases the market for RSS, which is good for us. Outlook aggregator is just one product. NG enterprise integrates with Exchange, which is key for enterprises who want to get outlook web access as well. Go to newgator.com and win a laptop.
Scoble: Outlook team used C++, and Newsgator used .NET, so will be more productive 🙂

Audience: What do you think about the people ramming large image ads, etc. into feeds?
Scoble: Have to incentivize content producers, so you can’t get rid of ads completely. But there are tasteful ways to do it.
Sanaz: If it drives users away, the advertisers lose. So they have to find the right balance anyway.
Audience: Feed subscription demonstrates interest, attention

Audience: What is product roadmap for implementing media enclosure support across MSFT product line.
Amar: RSS platform supports it nicely. Pushing product groups to do that. No specific disclosures at this point.

Scoble: What about richer interactivity? 2-way?
Amar: I’d like to answer a different question. RSS will become a target as it becomes more popular. Need to design with this in mind. Platform can do some things, but aggregators need to sandbox.
Jeff: Security is a now problem; we already have attacks
Sanaz: I’d like to answer the original question. Start.com is enabling this very scenario. Gadgets to enable special viewers for different types of RSS. Cross gadget communication.

Audience: MSFT recommends medium trust for ASP.NET; breaks ASP.NET apps that access arbitrary RSS.
Doug: Good point; that’s System.Net blocking you, could break web services too.

Audience: What about using RSS for sending expression trees, etc.
Doug: Sure, it could be done
Jeff: Just don’t send around actual code
Doug: Agreed

Audience: How do we trust you not to screw up RSS, if you tried to buy Claria?
Scoble: The right decision was made.

Audience: What about bandwidth?
Greg: Compression, filter for device capabilities
Jeff: Compression
Doug: Several ways to handle at trasport layer
Scoble: Feed should give history, so subscribers know what to expect
Greg: Auto-download is not always ideal user experience. We changed all of our prompts.

Audience: You start using for business data, expression trees, etc. when is it no longer RSS?
Jeff: Test it in some popular aggregators. If it makes sense to a normal user, it’s RSS.
Scoble: It’s about passing around data intended for human consumption.

Calling WS-* from AJAX

Last night, Kirk Evans invited me up to his WS-Cocktails party on the roof of The Standard, a redux of WS-Sushi (aka Rorygate). Rory wasn’t there (although there have been sightings here), but I got to talk with a bunch of WS-* and Indigo people.

One of the things that came up in my discussions with a number of people is the hole in our story for connecting AJAX/RIA and WS-*. Dare suggests that customers bring up this topic with product group folks at the PDC. I think people have been aware of this issue for some time, including Dare. I really began thinking about it, however, a couple of months ago when having lunch with Mark Fussell. He pointed out that the original SOAP toolkit enabled people to make SOAP calls from within IE, but the WS standards have moved on since, and there is no reliable built-in way within IE to call Web Services that use the newer WS-* specs.

The right answer might be to have the WSE team (or at a minimum, Indigo) ship their stuff in such a way as to be installable via ActiveX installer (for both IE and Mozilla) on web pages, and include the proper ActiveX support to call the WSE stack from JavaScript. This would still leave out Mac and Linux, but it’s a good start. The alternative is to wait until the browser vendors on all platforms deliver native support for WS-*, and I really don’t see that happening. Even if a large portal forms an alliance with one of the browser vendors, and pushes support into the browser, it would probably be incomplete and biased toward scenarios that company cares about most.

Finally, I’m not sure if it’s that big a hole, really. Installing heavy client stacks kind of defeats the point of AJAX. If you have enough control over the machine to install a heavy client stack, you might as well install .NET and use Winforms. As Dare pointed out earlier in the week, lots of AJAX developers prefer low-tech interfaces between client and server, and things using heavy WS-* stack are under the covers, deep integration with service partners, enterprise app integration, and so on.

PDC Must See: IE7 on Vista Security Architecture

If you write browser extensions, such as ActiveX controls or BHOs, FUNL03 is a must-see. 11:45-12:30 tomorrow in Halls C&D. Rob Franco and Walter VonKoch will be talking about the security enhancements to IE7 on Vista. If you always thought it was a truism that “the web browser runs in user space, so if you exploit a bug in the browser or an extension, you can run your code as user”, you’ll need to update your worldview for IE7 on Windows Vista. User Account Protection (UAP) on Windows Vista is a huge change in the default security paradigm for the world’s most widely used client OS, and IE7 on Vista goes even further, fundamentally changing the rules of the game for malware authors.

Random PDC Brain Dump

So I arrived at LAX today, got checked in to the hotel and had a couple of meetings. This was a little complicated:

  • The power in L.A. went out today, jamming up traffic and causing minor chaos. A couple of delays for people, but no big deal.
  • My hotel, New Otani, is further from the convention center than I thought. It’s a 20 min walk.
  • Avis ran out of cars, so I ended up with a big red Ford Explorer with 8 seats. People here drive > 90mph. Not me.
  • New Otani has about 10 prominent signs advertising that they serve Starbucks, and even arrows pointing the way. However, there is nobody at the stand, and no espresso equipment. This is a major disappointment. I’ll ask them about this later this evening.
  • No wired ethernet yet. Doesn’t work in New Otani or The Standard, though others report success. I’m guessing I have a bad ethernet cable (confirmed; their cable works). Starbucks across from Westin is a t-mobile hotspot.

Jimmy Hates IE

Or more accurately, he hates IE “beyond words”. I can’t say I can identify with the precise emotional state, but when I read his blog post I could sure identify with his description of hitting a CSS bug and searching for hours for the right hack.

A short while ago, Chris Wilson of the IE team revealed that IE7 is planning to fix a lot of CSS bugs. While some web devs complained that it’s not enough, most web devs recognize that it’s movement in a positive direction. Seeing Jimmy’s sample work correctly in IE7 (B2) with no hacks was gratifying to me, because it helps support the idea that we’ve been prioritizing the right fixes.

In addition, I’ve watched Markus’s paper on hasLayout take shape over the past month. Scott Isaacs recommends it, and the good news is that many of the workarounds become unnecessary in IE7. Having seen both of these developments firsthand, I can testify that these guys really are paying attention and prioritizing proper standards support. And this attitude is one that I’m confident will carry over into future releases of IE for the forseeable future.

In other news, Start.com is now launched. I made start.com my homepage when they enabled roaming, and haven’t looked back. It’s fun to see small teams within the company kicking butt and creating cool stuff.