My Impressions of Google Wave

Google Wave was in the news the last week, Sept. 30th was the date that platform was opened to the wider developer community. The actual big news event was last May when they presented a demo at their developers conference. The video of that demo is an hour and 20 minutes long, but quite illuminating. I sat down over the weekend and watched it, expecting it to be a slog, but it was quite entertaining.

While watching it, I took some notes, and what follows is a digested version of my immediate responses to the demo.

First off is that all of these web services have on main flaw, a single point of failure, i.e., network connectivity (either yours or Google’s). If, for instance, you use Google hosted services for your Wave conversations, if your Internet is down, you’re dead in the water. Of course, if your Internet is down, you also can’t receive email, so perhaps that’s not so big a deal, but the advantages of Wave come in the real-time and near-real-time collaboration, whereas email suffers very little from the latency problem that a local internet connection failure imposes.

Google certainly has big pipes to and from their servers and lots of redundancy, but they occastionally do have failures in some of their apps that cause them to be unreachable or slow. But consider if you decide to run your own Wave server — likely you would do so on a commercial hosting service rather than on your local office’s servers, but either way, you’re again in the situation where a crucial app is network-based, and only as reliable as the networks you depend on.

Embedding the Wave in a Blog:
Is just anyone allowed to participate in a WAVE embedded in the blog, or do you have to have user authentication in place?

Brilliant application of their Google search spelling algorithms, but how often does it actually fuck up?

The default is edits are immediately visible, indeed, they haven’t even built the feature to hide immediate updates. If you have a 10% rate of comments that you don’t want others to see, how many times will you end up accidentally sharing something you don’t want others to see until you’ve finished it? It seems to me, this makes it necessary to be very aware of the nature of the communication before you initiate it, and with certain people you’d want the default to be HIDE updates until SEND, while with others, you’d you’d want it to default to immediate.

A complicated problem, and one that will, I think, cause endless problems for end users — how many people pay for the email services that allow you to undo SEND in an email?

The presentation has confused me. I thought I understood the difference, but now I’m confused. They mentioned a distinction that a robot was server-side and an extension client-side, but the demo of Polly the Pollster seemed to obscure this — I feel less distinction now than I did before going into the example. Perhaps this because they’ve successfully abstracted the underlying technology so that to the user the difference is undetectable.

At the conclusion of the robot demo, Lars says “OK, that’s EXTENSIONS for you” (1:04), which just goes to show that I’m not the only one who is confused.

The difference is clearly server-side vs. client-side:

  1. an extension runs in the client. Updates to it get passed to the server as part of the wave and distributed through the normal wave distribution process.
  2. a robot is code running on the server that waits to see something pass by it in the wave that triggers its server-side behavior, whatever that may happen to be.
  3. robots have client-side UI elements that dump relevent XML into the wave that will then trigger the server-side action from the robot.
  4. thus, robots are client-side extensions that modify the wave plus a server-side process that reacts to those changes to the wave stream.

So, robots and extensions are *not* two different things. A robot is just an extension paired with server-side actions/

While it might seem tempting to integrate a Wave into a website, the problem is the same with the Wave as with SideWiki — you don’t have control. It’s collaborative, so you have all the problems that come with collaboration, where everyone is equal and nobody gets veto power. That is, unless they’ve actually engineered it for superusers who have the privilege of editing the way, i.e., removing from the playback those things that they don’t want part of the permanent record.

Interesting that the conclusion of the talk is Google’s realization of the importance of developers in making a platform successful. This is something MS always understood, something that Apple has only imperfectly understood, and something that this video shows Google is obviously coming to understand.

Why I despise Microsoft

I read in The Register today about Microsoft’s release of a plugin for Firefox that will allow you to view Open XML documents (MS’s controversial XML-based document format). But the article in The Register gave no download link, so I thought “Grrr. Annoying Register writers — don’t they have any sense?”

So, I went to MS’s download site, and put in “OXML Firefox” and got no matches. I tried some variations and got nothing. So, I went to Google and searched on “microsoft Open XML plugin for firefox” and expected to see a link somewhere at the top of the search results. No dice — all the links were for third-party websites. So I went to a reputable one (ZDNet) and expected to find a link. Once again, as with The Register, no link at all.

Now I was getting *rilly* annoyed. So I saw a link that I’d missed at the bottom of the first page of results — it was a Microsoft press release and on MS’s website. “Eureka!,” I thought — “that will surely be it!” The press release itself offered nothing, but there was a list of links at the right and the first link was to “Open XML Document Viewer,” and so I thought “Eureka!” again. But when I went to the page, it wasn’t on MS’s website — it was an open-source project, and I didn’t think it could possibly be the right site for this well-publicized plugin, since it listed only 448 downloads.

So I went back to Google and visited the first link that Google had brought up, a website I’d never heard of, (hence my skepticism in not going there first). It took me right to a download page, and I clicked the DOWNLOAD button. This (as is so often the case) took me to a second page that listed download sites, but there was only ONE download site, so I had trouble finding the link. Finally, I clicked it and started the download. In the meantime, I’d alread downloaded the viewer from the OpenXML Viewer Project’s website’s download page, and when the SAVE prompt popped up for the download, I noted that the file name was the same as for the previous download. I renamed the file and then compared the two, and, of course, they were identical. *sigh*

This whole frustrating process left me with a number of questions:

  • Is MS trying to hide the fact that this is a non-MS project?
  • Are all the media outlets not providing a link because…um, well, er, because?
  • And why do download sites not have code that checks it there’s only one download site to choose from and automatically initiate the download from that single website, instead of offering the user the opportunity to “choose” the one site (which confused the hell out of me, because I couldn’t see the link).

One might get the idea that MS is not all that enthused about promoting this thing.

Oh, last lesson: always trust Google to give you the right answer at the top of the results page.

Why I Still Despise Apple

I’m not generally anti-Apple — I admire much of what they have done in making high-quality products and still do — but today I had problems with Safari for Windows 3.0.x crashing on me, so I figured it was time to upgrade to the latest. So, I Googled for it and came to the download page:

Safari Download Choices

Note the choices. First, email is checked off by default, whereas an honorable company would leave it *unchecked*. Secondly, there are two choices, plain Safari and Safari with QuickTime. Now, plain Safari is what is checked, and that’s good, since why in the hell do I want or need to download and install an update to QuickTime just to get Safari? At least it’s not bundled with iTunes as the QuickTime download once was.

OK, not too annoying, just uncheck the email and get on with the download. Wait! What’s this? The installer name is “SafariQuickTimeSetup.exe” — better cancel the setup and try again, since I must have accidentally failed to select the right radio button in the option group. OK, try it again, and, yes, the file for the *non*-QuickTime installer is definitely named “SafariQuickTimeSetup.exe.” Oh, well, must be some annoying thing they do, and I’d guess the other installer is different (or maybe the files have a different source but are given the same name on download. Or something).

Curious now, I start the download of the QT version and go on with the install from the original file. Well! Turns out the so-called non-QT installer *does* install QuickTime. And when I do a file compare of the two installers:

Safari Installer Files Comparison

well, what a shock — a file compare of the two files shows that they are IDENTICAL.

To add insult to injury, the installer puts a QuickTime link and a Safari link in my Quick Launch bar on my Windows TaskBar — the installer should have asked for permission to do that, not just do it by default. Who the fuck needs a shortcut to QuickTime anywhere on their computer? When does *anyone* launch the content viewer instead of letting the OS launch the appropriate app according to the content you want to view?

I cannot *stand* this kind of behavior. First, I end up not getting what I asked for and then it installs things I didn’t want in the first place (and thought I was avoiding). And didn’t give me any choices about those things (not that at this point I’d even trust it to honor those choices…).

Last of all, making things worse still, I suspected that the installer probably put a system tray (MS keeps telling us that it’s not the “system tray” but the “notification area,” but I don’t give a crap) icon launcher in the Run line in my System Registry, so I fire up RegEdit and, yep, there it is, in all it’s glory — not only does Apple think I need a useless icon in my Quick Launch toolbar, but I also need another useless icon in the system tray. That is, I need TWO USELESS ICONS in my TaskBar from which I can launch QuickTime, but never ever *will*.

What is *wrong* with these people? Don’t they use computers? Don’t they recognize the pollution of the system tray and the Quick Launch toolbar that is endemic, with program after program installing their icons there for no good purpose? Well, no good purpose for the user of the computer — it’s an advertisement for the software, but that doesn’t do *me* any good.

To be fair to Apple, they are certainly not the only ones sticking icons where I don’t want them. But I must say I’ve never seen such a blatant overriding of the end users’ wants and needs as a download page that gives you the same installer regardless of which you choose. Assuming this is not simply a coding error on the download page, that kind of autocratic approach is exactly why long-time Windows users like me can never ever recommend Apple products — because Apple lies to you, telling you you’re in control and then doing whatever it pleases in the background.

The Future of Windows

Microsoft has a blog for the next version of Windows, called Engineering Windows 7, and it has lots of interesting articles. Today, a post is discussing the Windows ecosystem, and one of the major topics therein is the way OEMs package Windows. I have always been really annoyed with the garbage that gets bundled to load out of the box in a lot of OEM setups, especially when they include trial or limited-feature versions of software that provide important functions. These are the ones that annoy me the most:

  • AV software with limited subscriptions: if you’re providing AV software pre-installed, make it at least a one-year subscription!
  • Optical drive software support: Windows should be providing full writability to CD-R/RW and DVD-R/RW without any additional software needed. But in many cases, you have to have somebody else’s software installed for your optical drives to work. This means that if you rebuild your system you may not be able to restore full access to these devices.
  • Anything that puts an icon in the system notication area (formerly the “System Tray,” which MS denies was ever its real name, despite the fact that its executable was named “SysTray”): I don’t need an AOL icon, nor do I need one for QuickTime or Adobe Reader or Windows Media Player or MSN Messenger or Real Player and so forth. Many software manufacturers use the system tray as an advertising venue, and Microsoft should so something to stop this abuse, in my opinion.

Thus endeth the rant.

Miscellaneous Microsoft-Related Issues.

A couple of interesting articles encountered in the last week discussing Microsoft-related issues in general:

  • The first, by Albert Kallal, an e-crony of mine in, speculates about why Microsoft is going for .NET as a thin client strategy when they already have a winner of a thin client (Windows Terminal Services):
  • The second is a less Microsoft-friendly article, Windows XP Shows the Direction Microsoft is Going. It discusses a lot of the vulnerabilities of Windows XP (and all of MS’s NT-based OS’s). It’s pretty interesting in that it outlines a lot of the reasons why the NT-based versions of Windows are not as secure as MS would like us to believe. Of course, in my opinion, Windows security is more than enough for the vast majority of business users, though one must make numerous alterations to the default Windows configurations in order to make Windows as secure as it ought to be (the EVERYONE group and the way permissions are allocated to it is simply an abomination, for instance).

The Profound Stupidity of Slashdot Users

I am amazed at how profoundly stupid the readers of Slashdot (or, at least, the people who post) really are. Not a day goes by but that hundreds of Slashdot posters completely miss the point on just about any issue that is discussed there. Today’s annoying topic is campaign finance. I simply can’t stand people who complain about the system and won’t vote. And the ignorance of the way in which the multiple systems regulating political contributions actually work is astounding. Yes, I’m an insider to this (having a major political campaign fund as a client), but I knew the basics long before I ever got involved with it on a regular basis. Free speech as practiced on Slashdot is, I guess, a good thing, but gad, these people are so frigging stupid it’s astonishing.