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Office

High-Tech Tour

The 101st Tour de France started on July 3rd and Lance Armstrong will be going for an unprecedented sixth consecutive win. It’ll be a sprinter’s race for the next two weeks (yesterday’s finish of Stage 2 ended was clocked at speeds of 67 kms!) leading up the mountains where the men are separated from the boys. In the meantime, here’s a post on the latest gadgets at use in the peleton.

I’ve already signed up for SMS pages of the daily results.

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Office

Search, not Sort

Wired files this story on Apple’s announcement of Spotlight.

In Jobs’ scheme, the hierarchy of files and folders is a dreary, outdated metaphor inspired by office filing. In today’s communications era, categorized by the daily barrage of new e-mails, websites, pictures and movies, who wants to file when you can simply search? What does it matter where a file is stored, as long as you can find it?

Microsoft is already doing this with something called “Search Folders” on Outlook 2003, Apple is extending that paradigm to the entire hard drive and indexing in the background to improve performance.

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Office

Spotlight Developer’s Kit

Just dug around a bit and see that Apple will be providing a Developer’s Kit to extend Spotlight’s search engine to other applications.

But the search engine also works contextually within applications such as Apple’s Mail, Address Book and System Preferences—and Apple is giving developers at WWDC a software development kit to help them build Spotlight into their own applications.
eWeek, June 28th

I guess they’re going to reach out to their developer’s community to connect Spotlight to the internet. This should be interesting.

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Office

Wall Street Journal picks up scent

Front Page of yesterday’s Marketplace section has two stories, side-by-side, picking up on the meme of universal search with a graphic of two bloodhounds trying to get their way into a PC. One covers the announcement of the beta MSN search interface announced yesterday and the second looks at Apple’s Spotlight utility for desktop search. Both articles pose the theory that each of these companies are edging into the search space as a key differentiators. Microsoft’s approach is to create a better portal to the internet and Apple is working on getting an integrated desktop search out the door ahead of Microsoft’s Longhorn launch which promises better desktop searching.

If Microsoft is launching a better internet search engine to couple to their improved desktop search tools launching with Longhorn, and Apple is bundling better desktop search with Spotlight, the only thing missing is Apple integrated with an internet search engine. Apple’s Safari browser already integrates Google without the need of a separate toolbar – wonder what will happen to Sherlock which was Apple’s first attempt to embed internet searching into the desktop? Will Apple build its own, partner with a partner like Google, or reach out to the developer community to add on to Spotlight internet search integration?

Not exactly an admission, the article about Spotlight digs in to ask if either Google or Yahoo are looking at getting into the desktop search business themselves,

Google, which has become synonymous with finding information on the Internet, is working on its own tool for searching a PC, according to people who have talked with the company. A Google spokesman declined to comment on any product plans. Analysts say Yahoo may also get into desktop search. “If we think that’s something we need to do, we’ll look at it,” a Yahoo spokeswoman says.

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Office

MSN Search Preview

Microsoft announced a new, cleaner UI that clearly identifies paid advertisers and provides drop down access to predefined content sets such as News, Stock Quotes, Movies, and Shopping. This is part of a $100 million investment that Microsoft has made in this space which clearly underlines the importance Microsoft is placing on getting this experience right.

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Office

Spotlight

Apple announced the next version of their OS, codenamed “Tiger” which has an improved local search feature called “Spotlight” with the marketing tagline of, “Find anything, anywhere. Fast” Although it is limited to an index of local files and does not extend searches to the internet, it promises an improved index of local files and their metadata that builds dynamically in the background so that it is constantly updated. Spotlight is being released with a documented API so one can assume that Apple will leverage its developer community. It’s only a matter of time before someone publishes extensions to open web search engines.

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Office

The Google Supercomputer

One node in the discussion of the internet as a new platform is the meme of Google specifically as this platform. The notion gained legs with announcements of Orkut, the social software site affiliated with Google and later touched a nerve with the announcement of Gmail, Google’s online email service. This discussion was kicked off in April 2004 by Rich Skrenta, CEO of Topix.net in a well cited post, The Secret Source of Google’s Power in a post whose comments section is now outgrown the original post
. . . expanded by Jason Kottke in his post, GooOS, the Google Operating System
. . . referenced by Jon Udell in his Strategic Developer column,
. . . and summed up by Tim O’Reilly

Gmail is fascinating to me as a watershed event in the evolution of the internet. In a brilliant Copernican stroke, gmail turns everything on its head, rejecting the personal computer as the center of the computing universe, instead recognizing that applications revolve around the network as the planets revolve around the Sun. But Google and gmail go even further, showing that once internet apps truly get to scale, they’ll make the network itself disappear into the universal virtual computer, the internet as operating system.

Jon Udell later extends his musings in a later column,

The gigabyte slice of the Google file system available to Gmail beta testers will, in many cases, surpass the testers’ own corporate disk quotas for email.

Put that way, one can begin to see a world where the Google index is the broader file systems that points to “things out there” where our email, web pages, and social networks are all inputs into that file system. Jon goes on to explain this world where Google owned the operating system and what such a unified file system that continually indexes everything on your local PC could do:

Bayesian categorization: My SpamBayes-enhanced e-mail program learns continuously about what I do and don’t find interesting, and helps me organize messages accordingly. A systemwide agent that’s always building categorized views of all your content would be a great way to burn idle CPU cycles.

Context reassembly: When writing a report, you’re likely to refer to a spreadsheet, visit some Web pages, and engage in an IM chat. Using its indexed and searchable event stream, the system would restore this context when you later read or edited the document. Think browser history on steroids.

Screen pops: When you receive an e-mail, IM, or phone call, the history of your interaction with that person would pop up on your screen. The message itself could be used to automatically refine the query.

I guess I’m ok with this, so long as it’s not trying to sell me ads based on its findings!

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Office

Google Search Appliance 2.0

First launched in 2002, the Google Search Appliance is a rack-mounted unit designed to crawl and index intranet pages for enterprise search. Combined with OS-level integration points such as the Google Deskbar, the appliance is the bridge between an index of your PC hard drive and the internet. While Google has not yet announced an integration into the PC level index space, several third party vendors have announced the ability to add adaptive crawl technologies integrated with Microsoft Windows and Office. Most notable is Lookout which even looks like a Google knock-off.

The GB-1001 is a rack-mounted two-unit (2U) appliance that can be licensed to search up to 1.5 million documents at a rate of 300 queries per minute.

Our entry level license indexes up to 150,000 documents and costs $32,000 for a two-year license with hardware, software and technical support all included. Pricing scales upwards based on the number of documents.

A list of published customers.

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Office

URL is the new command line

Flash forward to where we in this debate today. John Gruber points out in his post The Location Field Is the New Command Line, that web-based applications are leapfrogging hardware-specific applications, despite their inferiority.

What they’ve got going for them in the ease-of-use department is that they don’t need to be installed, and they free you from worrying about where and how your data is stored. Exhibit A: web-based email apps. In terms of features, especially comfort features such as a polished UI, drag-and-drop, and a rich set of keyboard shortcuts, web-based email clients just can’t compare to desktop email clients.

But.

With web-based email, you can get your email from any browser on any computer on the Internet. “Installation” consists of typing a URL into the browser’s location field. The location field is the new command line.
from Daring Fireball

He concludes that Microsoft missed the boat by targeting Netscape. It’s not the company that was a threat, not even the browser, it was the applications that were enabled by the URL concept that is a threat to the Windows monopoly.

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Office

The Web as a Platform

Today I’m starting a new weblog that will focus on a discussion that has been gaining momentum over the past two years. As web services gain favor and companies, customers, vendors, and providers begin to communicate via these standardized APIs, we all realize new economies of scale as well as lowered barriers to entry.

My initial “aha” moment was during a trip to Redmond where a Program Manager walked us through a demonstration of the .NET version of Visual Basic and showed how in 30 minutes with something like 5 lines of code he was able to build a simple web application.

The scenario was a CTO talking with his IT guy on a plane ride. The CTO asks the IT guy what all the bug-a-boo over web services is about. Jacking into the net via the seat back phone, he strings together three separate applications that pipe their results to each other to bring back a result that confirms the obvious.

1. Input your flight number >
2. Flight number acts as an input to geo-tracking service like Flight Tracker >
3. GPS coordinates of flight act as an input service that translates GPS to Zip Code >
4. Zip Code acts as input into weather tracking service for radar image of weather conditions.
5. Look out your window and confirm weather conditions

No jokes about Bob Dylan and not needing a weatherman for such an exercise, this was just an example to get the juices flowing. If you think about various web applications as something that can be negotiated with the http equivalents of “grep” and “|” then you’ll begin to appreciate the transformative (and one could say, disruptive) power of this model. Add RSS feeds to automate the connections and it’s like adding oil to the machine – everything starts to run even more smoothly.

So, to kick off this discussion/weblog I’m pointing to Tim O’Reilly’s original posting that sums it up very nicely:

Bit by bit, we’ll watch the transformation of the Web services wilderness. The first stage, the pioneer stage, is marked by screen scraping and “unauthorized” special purpose interfaces to database-backed Web sites. In the second stage, the Web sites themselves will offer more efficient, XML-based APIs. (This is starting to happen now.) In the third stage, the hodgepodge of individual services will be integrated into a true operating system layer, in which a single vendor (or a few competing vendors) will provide a comprehensive set of APIs that turns the Internet into a huge collection of program-callable components, and integrates those components into applications that are used every day by non-technical people.

From Inventing the Future, April 9, 2002