Monday, May 28, 2007

The Color Purple

OK, I’ve stolen the title from Steven Spielberg’s 1985 film – or from the title of Alice Walker’s 1982 novel. And this blog has nothing to do with racism, but it is to do with colours – the colours you see on your computer screen.

I have recently been using a little device called a Huey (from Pantone/GretagMacbeth –, which is a computer monitor calibration tool. It checks what colours your monitor produces and corrects them so you see more accurate colours. Mine came from a company called Colour Confidence (

The device is about the size of a slightly thick and slightly short pen, and spends most of its life in a cradle connected to your computer through a USB port, where it monitors the ambient light. But let’s start at the beginning…

When you purchase the device (which costs about $90 in the USA and around £60 in the UK) you get the Huey device, a cradle, an extension USB cable, and a CD. The CD I had contained Version 1.0 of the software, which is OK if you have XP installed (or a Mac), but I have Vista. This meant I had to go to the Pantone Web site, register, and then download the Vista-capable version – which is 1.0.5. The software installed quickly and then needed to reboot my laptop.

The next stage was to wipe and dry the screen with the supplied wipes and cloth, and then connect the Huey device. Once Vista recognized it, I started the Huey software. Next I stuck the Huey to the screen using the very small suckers attached to it. The software then quickly ran through a number of colours and shades of grey. Lastly I was given a chance to compare the original settings with the new suggested settings. They weren’t enormously different, but they were definitely different. The colours are now “warmer”. In fact, you can select what type of use your computer is put to and select the appropriate colour scheme for that. There’s options such as Web browsing and photo editing, graphic design and video editing, and warm low contrast. Each week, the Huey recalibrates, which is a good idea.

Some reports on the Web suggest that the Huey is much cheaper and less accurate than other products. But I think that’s the point. If you need 100% accurate colour management for work you would buy one of these more expensive devices. For the rest of us, the Huey can make a useful additional tool at an affordable price. If you spend all day sitting in front of a computer screen, you want it to display more-or-less the right colours. I think it’s a handy little gadget.

And finally, and for the last time (I promise)... Xephon’s ( WebSphere Update is looking for new authors to broaden its base of contributors. If you work with WebSphere and you have discovered something you wished you'd known before you started, or you've implemented something useful that others could benefit from, please contact me on

Monday, May 21, 2007

We hate Microsoft – or is it Microsoft hates everybody else!!

Let’s make it clear, this isn’t a personal rant – although I am finding the lack of Vista drivers for devices that happily attached to my XP laptop a bit frustrating – it’s a look at recent news stories and their significance.

Firstly then, there’s Adobe, who have announced that Vista-compatible drivers for Postscript-enabled printers will be available in July. Hang on, didn’t Vista appear in the shops in February! Why has Adobe waited six months? Well, of course, the answer is that Adobe hates Microsoft. (For legal reasons I need to point out the use of hyperbole is solely to make this blog more interesting and is not taken from opinions stated by representatives of any company mention herein – phew!) Users of Adobe’s DreamWeaver, InDesign, and Photoshop products will be aware that there isn’t (or last time I looked anyway) a Vista version of the products. Also, in Europe, Adobe and Microsoft have taken up the cudgels. Adobe claims that Microsoft has violated EU trade laws by bundling Vista and the XML Paper Specification – you know, the thing that’s more than a bit like Acrobat. Plus, of course, not only is Microsoft trying to eat Adobe’s PDF lunch, it’s also set its sights on Flash. Microsoft now has the Silverlight multimedia authoring tool. But Microsoft is also a little vexed by the fact that Adobe will soon have an equivalent to Media Player. The beta of Adobe Media Player should be out later this year.

Then there’s the Open Source community. Microsoft really hates them. Microsoft is now claiming that the Linux kernel violates 42 of its patents. And that’s not all – other Open Source programs (and I’ve heard Open Office is included in the list) apparently infringe 193 patents.

Who else? Well, let’s not forget that Microsoft hates Google. Google is king of the Internet and is offering all those Office-like applications over the Web. They have a PowerPoint equivalent coming soon. Plus Google has its own desktop gadgets much like the ones found in Vista – only more of them. Plus, Google has outbid Microsoft for advertising company DoubleClick. And talking of Office-like applications, have you looked at yet? They’re definitely going to appear on Microsoft’s hate list!

And now Dell has been added to the hate list. Dell has been supplying computers for years with Windows as the operating system. Now, it is saying that customers are asking for XP rather than Vista as the operating system and it is supplying them with it. But that isn’t its cardinal sin – no Dell is now supplying new computers with Ubuntu installed. Another victory for Linux.

Microsoft is apparently going to upset the phone and network companies with its unified communications device (to be announced).

Does Microsoft like anyone? Well yes, they are good friends with flash card manufacturer SanDisk. Together they plan to put application programs on memory cards. As a user, you plug your memory card into any computer and you can access personalised e-mail programs, Web browsers, productivity tools, multimedia applications, and, so they say, more. What a stupid idea! What happens when you forget your memory stick or you are trying to use two computers? Haven’t they heard of the Internet?

In addition to its unified communications announcement, Microsoft is also showing off its online storage facility. So it has a lot going for it at the moment. It just seems that in order to stay at the top it is upsetting other companies rather than trying to work with them. We don’t all hate you Microsoft, you just seem to have a habit of putting people in a difficult position.

As I mentioned last week... Xephon’s ( WebSphere Update is looking for new authors to broaden its base of contributors. If you work with WebSphere and you have discovered something you wished you'd known before you started, or you've implemented something useful that others could benefit from, please contact me on

Monday, May 14, 2007

Aglets – a new way for mobile computing

I must have been messing around at the back of the class recently, because I have only just heard of aglets – a portmanteau word created from agent and applet – that run with distributed DB2 databases.

A mobile agent is an exceptionally clever piece of software that can migrate during execution from machine to machine in a heterogeneous network. Once it arrives on a new machine, the agent then interacts with service agents (that are permanently located on that machine) and other resources to perform its mission. So why would you want to use this kind of technology? Well the answer, as so often, is improved performance. Because the agent moves to the remote machine and performs a search (or whatever) and sends across the network the results, there is a huge reduction in the amount of data that uses the network and therefore every other network-related application isn’t slowed down – hence the improved performance. Any other method would involve large amounts of data from one computer being copied to another, and then searched (or whatever) there. Using aglets moves the processing to the computer on which the data resides – so, therefore, much less network traffic is necessary.

So how do you get hold of aglets? IBM’s Tokyo Research laboratory has created the Aglet Workbench, and the package can be downloaded from

The mobile agents are 100% pure Java. The Java Aglet API (J-APPI) is the interface used to build aglets and their environments. The API is platform agnostic, but it does require JDK 1.1 or higher to be installed for it to run. There is an agent server, which is called Tahiti, and this (by default) uses port 4434. Transferring agents between computers is achieved using ATP (Aglet Transfer Protocol).

It is definitely an interesting and useful development.

And for people who enjoy quiz nights – an aglet is also the little piece of plastic (or, perhaps, metal) at the end of a shoelace (usually) that stops the lace from unravelling.

My thanks to Nikola Lazovic, a regular contributor to Xephon's ( DB2 Update journal, for drawing aglets to my attention.

And on a different, but related note… WebSphere Update, also from Xephon, is looking for new authors to broaden its base of contributors. If you work with WebSphere and you have discovered something you wished you’d known before you started, or you’ve implemented something useful that others could benefit from, please contact me on

Monday, May 07, 2007

On Demand versus virtualization

You might very well think this is a strange title for a blog – after all, they seem like two completely different things. It’s like saying apples versus mountain bikes!

However, think about it a little deeper. Both of them are trends in computing and both would take IT departments in totally different directions. At some stage, managers are going to have sit down and decide which route they are going to take.

Let me explain my thinking in more detail.

On Demand computing describes a method of making computing resources available to users at the time those resources are needed. Basically what happens is this: users have lots of computer capacity available at their site, but pay only for the capacity they use. That way they are not paying to support peak capacity during quieter periods. They use as much capacity as they require at any one time and that’s all they pay for. They don’t pay for the extra capacity on the occasions when it isn’t needed, only when it is needed and used. On Demand computing has been tipped by many to be the next big trend in computing. After all, it makes sense for a company to have all the capacity it will ever need, but only pay for the capacity it is actually using.

Virtualization, on the other hand, is a technique that allows users to maximize the use they get from their existing hardware. You don’t need more, you just utilize what you already have better. Virtualization techniques allow hardware to “appear” to be available to users. It can even make non-existent devices appear to be available. It then takes the call to that device and routes it somewhere else – all completely seamlessly to the user. However, the important point in this debate is that it maximizes the usage of the hardware that is installed. Mainframers are familiar with VM, PR/SM and all the other virtualization techniques that have been around for many years. AIX users are now able to benefit from virtualization and so are System i users and even sites with x86 servers.

The advantages of choosing the virtualization route are that virtualization will reduce the amount of hardware that needs to be switched on, and so will reduce electricity bills. On Demand requires that data centres have the hardware delivered and installed. Not having it delivered will save petrol and will be a component of a company’s “green” strategy. Companies will also need less air conditioning (and again less electricity) because they won’t have to cool these extra boxes.

The one big thing in favour of On Demand computing is that it is an easier strategy. The extra boxes are used when needed and money is paid out at the end of the month (or whatever the charging period is). With virtualization you need to buy the software and have someone who knows what they’re doing to install it. You then need expertise to set up and run the virtual machines.

What I am suggesting is that when IT departments sit down to decide where they want to be in five years time and how they can achieve those goals. they will prefer to develop their own expertise in virtualization and be able to take all the advantages this will offer both now and in the future rather than install extra just-in-case capacity.

What do you think?