Bronze age of IT

There is a big myth around: IT exists for such a long time now and there are so many companies and software pieces around that quite everything can be done.

Nope! I hear this often by customers who sometimes believe it is just a matter of price to solve every IT problem nowadays. And it's either the IT consultants and some vendors that tell this. The sad truth is: We are still in bronze age of IT.

I agree that much is possible yet - an on one hand much has been done. That creates a large scale of possible file formats, protocols, standards etc.

On the other hand for example many software pieces suffer from legacy and some newer are very similar - "me too" products driven by the requirement of a short "time to market".

From my point of view there are still many construction sites. Just to reinstall and reconfigure all the applications I need when reinstalling my PC is a nightmare on Windows. At least on Linux it got better (therefore I said we are in Bronze age and not in stone age ;-) ). Software development gets more and more complicated because of the very different interfaces, technologies and languages. The new arriving programmer faces a jungle of things. I like diversity but too much is too much.

Probably Internet is the most important thing that had lead us out of stone age. Now we have at least the possibility to connect to each other finding solutions thinking globally and not reinventing the wheel many times.

But the most sad thing I see these days is not the technical possibilities - it is the behavior of companies. They just want to produce software cheap or refuse to give support or buy and buy other companies destroying organizations and products.

Related posts: Economic crisis and IT, IT project costs explosion, The hardware, Reinventing the wheel.


Document file format

Yesterday my wife received a request for a poll by email. She confirmed to participate and received ... - a Word document. Not a link to a website, not a PDF form, not a text file - no, a Microsoft Word document with form fields. And we are on Linux.

Although Open Office does a great job on importing Word documents some form fields (meant as a pull-down menu) did not show up the available alternatives). My wife told me and said she thinks that initially somehow something showed up for a moment. I have to say, that I had no interest in investigating this problem, because of a single reason:
People should write documents in a portable, platform independent standard format.
Especially when intended for large amount of people it is important to use a format that can be displayed (and edited where necessary) by everybody.

I had an interested talk a few years ago with a project manager who also teaches and trains other project managers about the format of documentation created during a project. He told me that prior to a project start they analyze the environment at the different partners involved and if they use different versions of Microsoft Office products then they estimate higher project costs due to compatibility issues because different versions of Microsoft Office behave differently and display contents differently. They often use the RTF format to overcome different drawbacks. However, using RTF reduces available formatting features.

I know these problems also. Not only once a co-worker wasted half a day correcting the layout of a concept that has been written as a Word document and has been edited by a customer.

So already years ago I switched to Open Office for every project relevant documentation. After evaluating the options that sounds the best alternative for me using the Open Office formats ODT, ODS and ODG.

The major advantages are:
  • Platform independency
    I can read and edit the documentation at work under Windows and at home with Linux.

  • No (or at least very few) compatibility issues.
    Using different platforms or versions of Open Office does not raise display or layout issues - or at least not with the amplitude known from Microsoft Office.
    In the past for major changes in the document features Open Office did change file extension keeping compatibility and transparency.

  • No license fees
    Open Office is free and would also help companies saving a lot of money.

  • Direct PDF creation with bookmarks and links
    Open Office can directly create PDFs (without the use of an external PDF printer driver) Preserving links from table of contents or other links within the document. Further (when using appropriate heading format templates) bookmarks are automatically created in the resulting PDF which makes navigation easy when reading the document online.
For mind mapping I also use FreeMind which is a good supplement when writing project documentation.

Especially in IT or more technic/industry focused companies there are other types documents also to be written that cannot be written efficiently using Open Office. For those cases I recommend looking at OSALT.COM. That site helps finding alternative Open Source software for different commercial products. - E. g. DIA as an alternative for Visio (although - with some limitation - Open Office Draw can be used also). The Open Source alternatives do not always offer the same huge feature set as some commercial product, so there are sometimes relevant limitations. But in other cases the

Related posts: Data file format, Why I hate ribbons, Stationary under Ubuntu, Ignorance of the different, Popular Ubuntu desktop myths.


Social networking sites

There were several events and discussions that caused me to test several social networking sites over time. Finally I got to some conclusions.

I tested the following sites:
More social networking sites can be found on Wikipedia.

My focus was on the following features:
  • Keep the contact
    I have a lot of work and a family - both needs much attention. I don't have the time for regular meetings with my friends. I do know many people that I would like to have contact more often but usually I see my good friends only once in a few months. So one big challenge is to not completely get the people out of sight that I do see very seldom.
  • Efficiency
    As I have no time and as I am a life hacker using GTD methods, efficiency is a major priority for me. If the application does not bring big benefit with a minimum effort I will not use it.
  • Annoyances
    It is easy to nag me with additional necessary clicks or time used to search for a specific feature (e.g. password change, write to others wall etc.). I looked for the tool that minimizes those annoyances.
  • Security
    A https-Access to the site at least for the login is a must. If the whole site can be used https then either better.
  • Members from your network
    It is somewhat important how many of the people you know are already using the particular site. Although some people have their account on several social networking sites, they are barely really using them all. And if you can convince somebody to sign up for a different site it will not be clear if this person will continue to use the site. So it is better if your contacts are already actively using the site.
And my results are:
  • XING (Business focus):
    • Complete navigation can be done in https.
    • Many of my colleagues, partners and customers do have an account there (talking about Austria/Europe).
    • The available features can be used quite easily.
    • Very annoying that many features are only available to the one that pays. Status updates and so on are limited to a certain number of messages. So if you want to stay informed you have to look at XING at the very least once a day - very annoying.
  • Facebook (Private focus):
    • What I like most is the fact that you can easily stay in contact with your friends and feel still connected somehow even if you see them very seldom. You get notified, what they like most, what they are currently interested in and doing. You can discovered shared interests you didn't were aware of. Many of my friends are already there - many are not (but from those most can't be found either anywhere else).
    • If you use Facebook, you IMHO don't need Twitter - such a feature of micro-blogging is included by status updates.
    • Login not https if you do not manually type it into the address link. Can be solved by saving the appropriate link in your bookmarks.
    • What I hate most on Facebook is the spam. There is a lot of stuff like karma, snowballs, pets that gets thrown at you. Similar problem with those huge amount of unwanted applications - I have no other word than spam for this.
  • LinkedIn (Business focus):
    • Focus on finding the right business partners - appropriate features like recommendation of others.
    • Tries to avoid adding people you do not personally know (well, also can be an advantage).
    • Limited features for those who don't pay.
    • Recommendation features are basic and do not reflect uncommon situations (e.g. I have a friend who is also a business partner and he runs two separate businesses - both combinations are not supported).
  • Orkut (Private focus):
    • Tightly integrated with GMail/Google as part of Google applications collection.
    • Poor feature set.
    • Quite nobody of my friends/contacts is there.
  • StudiVZ/MeinVZ (Private focus):
    • Focus on main features to link contacts (so it has not the spam level known from Facebook).
    • Very annoying separation of StudiVZ and MeinVZ. What if I run a business and do study? How to change later when I first used StudiVZ and then finished studying? - Maybe a change is easy but I currently do not know if this is well supported. Then when searching a friend I have to consider whether to search StudiVZ, MeinVZ or both.
    • Needs certificate exception added to firefox to somehow get https to work.
  • Ning (Different focus):Ning has a little bit a special status - it is not one common social networking site, instead it offers the possibility to create more specialized networks. For instance to get all the Star Trek fans together or to create a community for all vendors and customers of a certain product or even to create communities for a specific hobby.
    • Completely different areas for different communities can be created.
    • Combines social networking, forum and blogging features.
    • If I have multiple networks I may need to write some common personal information twice.
    • The forum features are quite limited although I think that for more specialized communities the forum features are the most important.
For staying connected with friends you either see only once a year or even less, Facebook is IMHO the best choice. When you meet you can focus on the most important or interesting topics to talk and you can save a lot of time by "just bringing your friend up to date about a lot of minor changes your life". Those things can be published on Facebook. I would only keep attention not to publish too private and personal details. One good thing is also the availability of a mobile app that is available for most mobile phones - so you can post at Facebook what you are doing while on the road (I use this because while on train or waiting somewhere is the best time for such activities - you don't loose other important productive time then).

For business it may depend on your location what is more relevant for you - it might be XING or LinkedIn - both have business focus features, so it makes sense to have one private and one business focused social networking site in use. However, all the business focused sites do offer only limited features without payment - logically (you want to make business using that site so they also want to get their part of it).

Regarding personal information posted into social networking sites:
This is an often discussed issue, therefore I want to give a short statement on this. People often warn about the use of social networking sites and post too much private information.
If one use drugs or is alcoholic (s)he won't publish such information anywhere - not on paper nor somewhere on the internet (exceptions given for people who want to show in public how to quit).

I also had a discussion regarding "bad-will" of others. There are always people who don't like you even if you wish love, peace and success to everybody. As you can't satisfy everybody, there will be people who don't like you. The more information they can get about you the easier it is for them to harm you. - However, if somebody really wants to harm or nag you, phone number and address is the most important information. Most social networking sites allow particular privacy settings. In Facebook for instance posted information is only published to those who you confirmed as friends. If somebody does not like you and wants to talk bad about you to your friends, it's not your friends if they believe it without at least asking you also for a statement to hear both sides.

On the other hand, you would like your old friends to re-find you, you want to keep in touch with friends you see only seldom because you have not much time and you also might want head hunters to find you for offering a good job. So being present on the web and on social networking sites has also a lot of advantages. But anyway, you decide whether and where to be present - just remember: A big part of success is "showing up".

Related posts: Why I don't need Twitter, The mobile device, Surveillance, privacy (NSA, PRISM, ...) and encryption.