Sep 03

Ron Burk wrote a terrific, funny article “A Brief History of Windows Programming Revolutions” that describes the internal back-and-forth struggle between programming groups at Microsoft in their endless pursuit to eliminate DLL Hell.  First there was DDE, then OLE, COM, ActiveX, MFC, ATL, and eventually .NET:

“And that brings us up to date with .NET (pronounced like ‘doughnut’, only different), which is like the Internet, only with more press releases.  Let’s be very, very clear about one thing: .NET will eliminate DLL Hell.  .NET includes a new programming language called C# (turns out there was a fatal flaw in Active++ Jspresso, so just as well it died).  .NET includes a virtual runtime machine that all languages will use (turns out there’s a fatal flaw in relying on Intel CPUs).”

The Simpsons, Copyright © Fox, All Rights Reserved.The serious point behind this funny article is how each of these Microsoft “revolutions” were supposed to be the panacea of Windows development, only to be replaced in a few short years by the next-best-thing. 

At least Microsoft has stuck with .NET Framework for 8 years, but the churn continues within the .NET development ecosystem.  Remember how WindowsForms was supposed to provide a rich client GUI that ran across all hardware platforms?  Turns out it didn’t work so well in a web browser, so Microsoft invented WebForms.  And MVC.  WinForms also didn’t render well on Linux, so open-source geeks use Gtk# instead.  And WinForms is too heavy to run on mobile devices, so Microsoft ejected it from the .NET Compact Framework.  But .NET CF is too “old school” for smartphones, so now there’s Silverlight.  Are you following me?

In the tech industry, the only constant is change.

Mar 19

When you clicked an icon to launch your web browser to read this article, you can thank Charles Thacker (among others).

In 1973, Thacker and a group of scientists at the famed Xerox PARC (Palo Alto Research Center) built the Alto, the world’s first desktop computer.  The Alto featured many innovations that we take for granted today in our personal computers: a television-like screen, graphical user interface, windows, icons, and a WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) text editor.

The Association of Computing Machinery (ACM) has awarded Charles Thacker with the Turing Award, which is considered to be the “Nobel Prize in Computing.”  The award includes a $250,000 check, with financial support by Intel and Google.  Since 1966 the Turing Award has honored computer scientists and engineers who “created the systems and underlying theoretical foundations that have propelled the information technology industry.”

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Jul 28

We’ve all had to listen to stories about how our parents had to walk to school each day, through the snow, uphill both ways.  We’d roll our eyes and laugh at the “primitive” life our parents led.  But as our generation grows older, the products and technologies that defined our youth are also fading fast from memory.

Let’s face it, the world is changing at an accelerating pace.  Moore’s Law ensures that the world continues to make things smaller, faster and better.  Unlike hand-me-down clothes, the technology we grew up with will NOT be passed down the line to the next generation of geeks.

In this spirit, Wired Magazine has created a list of 100 things your kids may never know.  For example:

  • The scream of a modem connecting
  • The buzz of a dot-matrix printer
  • 8, 5 and 3-inch floppy discs
  • Storing data on tapes
  • Using jumpers to set IRQs
  • DOS
  • Green-screen dumb terminals accessing a mainframe
  • Daisy chaining SCSI devices and making sure they’ve all got a different ID
  • Counting in kilobytes
  • Having to constantly delete things to make room on the hard drive
  • Booting the computer from a floppy disk

100 Things Your Kids May Never Know About

Jul 24

Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates decided to weigh in on Gizmodo’s ‘79 Celebration:

“I read those 1979 stories all last week, and it put me in a nostalgic mood, so I wanted to offer my own memory to add to the collection.

“In 1979, Microsoft had 13 employees, most of whom appear in that famous picture that provides indisputable proof that your average computer geek from the late 1970s was not exactly on the cutting edge of fashion.  We started the year by moving from Albuquerque back to Bellevue, just across the lake from Seattle.  By the end of the year we’d doubled in size to 28 employees.  Even though we were doing pretty well, I was still kind of terrified by the rapid pace of hiring and worried that the bottom could fall out at any time.

“What made me feel a little more confident was that 1979 was the year we began to sense that BASIC was right on the verge of becoming the standard language for microcomputers.  We knew this could be the catalyst that would unlock the potential of the PC to democratize computing and create the right conditions for an explosion in programs and applications that would lead to really rapid growth of the PC market.”

Read the rest of Gates’ story at Gizmodo

Jan 15

We all know that today’s software license agreement is a joke.  It’s usually a dozen pages of legaleze that nobody reads and everyone just clicks “Accept” in order to run the software.  The company could be demanding our first born, but we’d be none the wiser.

Turns out that End User License Agreements have been around for a long time.  Here is a “License Agreement” drafted by Thomas Edison for his National Phonograph Company.  Not only does it restrict the product’s use and resale, it also establishes a floor for the market price.  Edison was truly a man before his time.

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Dec 04

This article was written by José M. Aguilar in Spanish on his excellent blog Variable Not Found, and was translated, edited and republished here by Timm Martin (and Google Translator) with permission from Mr. Aguilar.

I’ve been using emoticons often since I discovered them back in the day when Fidonet dominated the world of digital communications.  And in spite of their everyday use, I haven’t given them much attention.  However, when I searched for some information about emoticons, I found some curiosities that I think are worth knowing.

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Dec 04

This article was written by José M. Aguilar in Spanish on his excellent blog Variable Not Found, and was translated, edited and republished here by Timm Martin (and Google Translator) with permission from Mr. Aguilar.  This is Part 2 of the article (click here for Part 1).

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