RealTime IT News

Five Little Wishes For IT

Amid all our video and Web-surfing on handheld devices, and ordering up software over the Internet, there are a few items to add to a wish list for the land of information.

Here's my top five:

Getting Real About China

Is anyone in IT just a teeny bit concerned about human rights in China? You'd never know it from all the slobbering announcements about the great investment opportunities in China. Sorry, but I'm tired of people frothing at the mouth about all the over-the-top growth while turning a blind eye to the very real issues of software piracy, working conditions and, most important, the hostility to free speech and democracy there.

Take the most recent example: the violent police crackdown on yet another demonstration among Chinese villagers. According to the New York Times and other press, some 20 protesters were killed by police, after they were called in to quell the clash.

According to the New York Times, "a stilted calm prevails, a cover-up so carefully planned that the small town looks like a relic from the Cultural Revolution, as if the government had decided to re-educate the entire population. Banners hang everywhere, with slogans in big red characters proclaiming things like, 'Stability is paramount and 'Don't trust instigators.'"

One thing is certain, reporter Howard W. French wrote from Shanghai in his coverage of the crackdown, "The government is doing everything possible to prevent witnesses' accounts of what happened from emerging."

This is the elephant sitting in the corner of that big IT love-fest for China: government crackdowns on any whiff of dissent, no matter how much the interests of individuals are trampled in the name of development and growth. The Internet is giving the Chinese people a voice. And yet, Google, Yahoo and MSN have capitulated to the government's iron fist in trying to keep its people locked down.

MSN allowed China to ban the word Freedom from its free blogging service. Yahoo's betting big on China, with a $1 billion cash stake in Chinese Internet company Alibaba. But, according to Reporters Without Borders, Yahoo also supplied information to the Chinese government that helped them silence a journalist trying to report the truth. Google has also come under fire for blocking certain news sites from access by Chinese Internet users.

My wish: that the people of China keep the faith and keep using the Internet to let their voices be heard; and that IT and especially Internet-based companies show some courage about human rights when they're sitting down to strike yet another development deal with China's government.

Getting Over the On-Demand Fear

As long as memory management improves on computing devices, and as developers continue building lightweight applications with the help of AJAX , companies will have fewer reasons to fear the concept of On-Demand software, delivered over the Web or Internet. It's certainly attractive to small and medium-sized businesses, which can get software and applications that heretofore only the big boys of the enterprise world could afford. But networking and bandwidth issues still cloud the bright future of On Demand. Take the recent outage of Salesforce.com. As internetnews.com's Susan Kuchinskas reported, Salesforce.com confirmed that some users experienced intermittent access from approximately 9:30 a.m. to 12:41 p.m., and then again from around 2:00 p.m. to 4:45 p.m. EST on Tuesday of this week.

The outage apparently hit a nerve with some enterprises, which aren't quite sure about the scalability stability and performance of software-as-a-service.

Applications created using Asynchronous JavaScript and XML (AJAX) seem to be the answer. After all, the technology helps keep applications slim by using JavaScript elements to help streamline messaging and queries between a Web server and a browser. But it's also complex. As our Jim Wagner pointed out, AJAX requires developers to have a firm grasp on not only the Web standards being used but also on the server-side techniques to extract information from a database or other repository. That helps explain why there aren't so many AJAX-powered applications.

But plenty of software developers, starting with Microsoft and its Atlas application, are beginning to step forward with solutions, adding more tools to help manage this complexity. Add that to my software-on-demand wishlist.

More Memory For Smartphones and 3G Cell Phones

Smartphones aren't just smart. They're hot. Cell phones are smart too, and rockin' with video now. But with all the extra content flowing into our gadgets these days, it would be nice if the gadget-makers included more memory and processing power on these devices.

As a proud owner of the Treo 600 -- although my 650-owning friends sniff and scoff at the older version -- I'm saying I've got a better-performing phone than they do in the memory department, because I don't have as many memory-hogging apps to suck up all the memory and processing functions as the fancier 650. Heck, Palm had to offer up 128 MB of free Secure Digital memory cards to users who complained that the ROM version, and its 32 MB of space, is actually more of a memory hog than the 600s.

Maybe Freescale could be the one to watch in this regard. The semi-conductor maker and spin-off from Texas Instruments is already pushing the envelope for smaller but more powerful cell phones and wireless networking with its product family of Digital Signal Processors, as well as emerging standards with DigRF. The number-two supplier of programmable digital signal processors (DSPs) made itself the first chipmaker in 2005 to manufacture a multi-core programmable DSP on 90 nanometer (nm) process technology and bring it into volume production. Watch for more embedded system developers look more closely at multi-core DSPs as a way to keep cell phones sleek, yet powerful enough to process more content while keeping their cool.

On the memory side of the equation, let's see how Palm handles the release of its Windows-based version of the Treo next month to see how well-suited the devices are for handling processing requests.

Smart phone makers need to be in Gig territory on memory in 2006. Cost, of course, is the issue, but that's why we call them wishlists.

More 64-Bit-Ready Applications, Starting with Outlook

If 2005 was the year that 64-bit computing arrived -- on the server side at least -- then hopefully 2006 will be the year that application developers filled in the other side of the equation. We kept hearing from analysts all year: There's still no there there for 64-bit applications. But Microsoft has a great opportunity to make the other side of the equation add up, now that it has released Windows Server 2003 and the Windows XP Professional x64 editions.

If there's one application that desperately needs to be taking advantage of better memory utilization with 64-bit computing, it's Outlook, which is usually the first application that crashes due to memory problems -- and the most critical application office workers rely on day-to-day.

That Developers Get More Edgy

Jim Waldo, distinguished engineer for Sun Microsystems, put it best: The sooner developers can get a handle on the shift away from highly centralized network systems to a looser confederation of systems, they'll see the future of computing.

"When people talk about edge computing, they think of cell phones, or devices that help you find a restaurant in your area. That's not what the edge is about. The number of clients is limited by the number of us," he said.

"Maybe everybody will have three or four devices, but the really interesting edge isn't there. It's in sensors and actuators, and in things that are not client devices but are actually services pumping data into the rest of the network. Once you think of data that way, you're on to the future."

Erin Joyce is executive editor of internet.com's news channel