Monthly Archives: March 2011

The Rise of the User

One thing is becoming more and more clear. Large companies that are users of Eclipse technologies are getting more and more involved directly in the building of those technologies. I’ve definitely seen this in the CDT space where probably about 1/3 of our committers are from companies like this.

One thing needs to be made clear, though. This is a gigantic shift in the tectonic plates that is the embedded software business. Supply chains are king and in the past companies relied solely on their suppliers to meet their needs and were held accountable for anything that went wrong.

With the advance of open source technologies in these companies, I’m convinced it requires a change in strategy for the suppliers. Suppliers need to be more sensitive to the aspirations of their customers in open source. I’m not sure what that means and how they need to change their practices to accommodate this change in the industry. But those that don’t change will be hurting somewhere down the road. It’s an interesting and scary time all rolled into one.

Eclipse and the Post-PC Era PC

The best thing about EclipseCon isn’t the sessions, although all the ones I’ve been to so far have be great and educational. It’s not the receptions, although what a great way to get a feel for the energy around Eclipse. It’s not the beer, sacrilege you say. It’s those little conversations you get into with fellow Eclipse contributors about the craziness we could get into if we dare try.

Last night I was talking to an e4 committer to be unnamed to protect the (not quite) innocent. I was commenting that e4 really has piqued my interest with the performance and the promise of flexibility. But the one thing that really bugs me, and I mean really bugs me, is the editor area and how it looks so different from the editor area we have in 3.x and really sticks out like a sore thumb. He explained that it was intended to support the use case where you have two editors split in the area to do a file compare and you wanted to send them both into a shared full screen mode.

OK, I get that. But I do fear though for the poor new user who will see this and be really confused at look of it. He may not think immediately that there’s a problem, but something will be latent bugging him that things just aren’t quite right and he’ll feel comfortable and uncertain about why things look the way they do. Not to mention the screen real estate it takes up.

At any rate, this blog isn’t about that. It’s about what I brought up next. I jumped into the rant I started with my last blog entry about the need for us to take very seriously that we are building this stuff for humans. We need to empathise with them, and as technologists, we aren’t very good at that. It’s just part of our nature. And it’s worse when we actually think we are when we’re not, and that’s how we get so much crappy software out there in the industry. We need to build are software organizations and get into our DNA that it takes more than just great technology to make great products. We need to understand or get people who’s job it is to understand humanity and what the humans who are are customers real needs are, especially the ones that they can’t even express themselves.

And we all know by now that Apple and the rest of the tablet vendors (and I played with a live RIM Playbook yesterday and it’s pretty hot) get this and have it in their DNA to get usability right. And I have a burning curiosity about what the world would be like if that effort also went towards fixing the usability on my laptop and what a “Post-PC Era PC” and particularly Android Honeycomb like the one that ASUS recently announced. They’ve managed to take their work from 4″ smartphones to 10″ tablets. Can they take it to my 15″ laptop and my 24″ desktop. I think, or at least hope, so.

And I pose the question, what would Eclipse look like on this device? What would Eclipse look like if it was an Android app that followed the look and feel of the other Android apps. We pondered that for a bit. There wasn’t an overwhelming favourable response from the crowd that had gathered by that time. But I am very curious and hopefully we can at least understand what the tablet makers are trying to accomplish and help drive forward that kind of innovation in usability at Eclipse as well.

Understanding Apple’s Greatness

As a senior software engineer wondering how the hell does Apple make such great products, if you do anything, listen to the last five minutes of Steve Jobs’ keynote introducing the iPad 2. It opened my eyes and made me a believer. Here’s what he had to say:

“It’s in Apple’s DNA that technology alone is not enough. That it’s technology married with liberal arts, married with the humanities that yields us the result that makes our hearts sing. And nowhere is that more true than in these post-PC devices. These devices need to be more intuitive than a PC where the software and the hardware and the applications need to intertwine in a more seamless way than they do on a PC. And we think we’re on the right track with this. We think we have the right architecture not just in silicon but in the organization to build these kinds of products”.

It’s the passion with which he said it, and the proof in the products that Apple continues to deliver, that have won over an army of fanboys, that proves he indeed does have the right formula. Technology built for humans, what an incredibly simple yet unappreciated idea by so many in our industry. Sure we have the odd usability expert sprinkled through our organizations, but to have an organization and culture and passion built around these ideas? What magic we could make.

The good news is that I don’t think Apple has a patent on these ideas. If they do, I quit now. But I don’t think so. Is it possible for a techie to understand what needs to be done? I have my doubts. Techies are an odd sort. We’ve all seen it. The uber-geek who writes a killer algorithm to make products sing. But he needs help. He needs that special someone to show him how to take that algorithm and produce something regular people will fall in love with. The path is there, and we see it in everything that Apple makes, it works. But don’t let them have a monopoly on it.