Monthly Archives: February 2011

Development trends to watch in 2011

Takeaway: Justin James considers Silverlight, Windows Phone 7, mainstream development alternatives, Web development maturity, and the economy topics worth watching in 2011.

2011 is here! While I don’t like to make predictions per se, I do like to explore what topics I think may be important to developers for the next twelve months. Let’s jump right into my look ahead for 2011.


2010 was the year that Silverlight (and with it, WPF for apps that need access to local resources) gained real momentum. The more I play with Silverlight, the less it frustrates me, though lots of aspects of the technology still rub me the wrong way. In my opinion, the “patterns and practices” people pollute Silverlight’s ecosystem; they waste a lot of time and effort on a million frameworks to do things that address a couple of stylistic and academic concerns at the expense of increased complexity, indirectness of code, and significantly raising barriers to entry.

Fortunately, I learned that you don’t need to do things the way these folks push. In fact, the default, out of the box Silverlight development experience is very similar to WinForms (for better or for worse), and the learning curve is not nearly as bad as it appears when you first survey the landscape. This is particularly good news because, in 2011, enough development is moving to Silverlight and WPF that folks who don’t have the time and energy to learn new development paradigms will be moving to it.

Windows Phone 7

In my TechRepublic columns about Windows Phone 7 development, I note that the experience hasn’t always been pleasant. While aspects of Windows Phone 7 development still frustrate me, it is a much better experience than its competition in terms of writing applications.

I don’t know if Windows Phone 7 will be a big hit, but if it’s a success, it will be a late bloomer like Android. Remember, Android was anemic until the Droid 1 was released just over a year ago, and now it’s a big hit. That said, I think that Android is the odd man out right now. The development experience is tough because of the fragmentation. You never know what resolutions to expect, for example, or baseline phone functionality. Even on a particular model, you can’t expect a particular version of Android. With iPhone, BlackBerry, and Windows Phone 7, you do.

RIM has lost an incredible amount of momentum, and none of its recent attempts at regaining it have looked promising. Palm’s WebOS is on ice until HP figures out what it wants to do with it. Symbian has huge worldwide success except for the United States. iPhone continues to move crazy unit numbers. If Windows Phone 7 becomes a hit, it will be at the expense of RIM and Android. I think Android has enough problems, and Windows Phone 7 has both enough potential to pull it off. Windows Phone 7 is already quite good in ways that Android isn’t, both to developers and users. If I were an Android developer, I would be watching Windows Phone 7 to see where it goes.

Mainstream development alternatives

The more I see of Java and .NET, the less I am happy with them. Java and .NET work really well for some things; however, both have a lot of problems, not the least of which is the ecosystems. The Java ecosystem isn’t sure if it wants to be some open source haven or the next COBOL. The .NET folks are going insane replicating development patterns that were pioneered 30 years ago, but instead of studying the literature and figuring out how to do it right, they get hung up in replicating what was done ages ago, including the workarounds that were needed due to technical limitations at the time. Meanwhile, neither ecosystem is doing much of anything to deliver products that allow typical developers to produce better applications quicker with fewer bugs and security problems.

Frameworks that enable developers to use the latest pattern fads cover up the fundamental problems with both platforms, which is the amount of complexity in the typical application is overwhelming. I hope that the alternatives to these mainstream development platforms get more traction in the future. I haven’t talked to anyone who left Java or .NET and was eager to go back, particularly around Web development. If you think there has to be a better way to get apps out the door, 2011 is a great year to check out your choices!

Web development maturity

In the last decade, Web development has really taken off, and there has been a ton of innovation in the space. Going forward, we are going to see a lot more maturity in the market. For better or for worse, HTML5 continues its progress toward being a universal standard for building Web applications. Web browsers are following suit, and even Internet Explorer is trying hard to comply with the HTML5 standard. This means that developers can spend more time getting stuff done and less time figuring out one-off workarounds and clever hacks for problems that shouldn’t even exist.

The economy

In 2010, the economy picked up steam for tech workers, but the momentum seems to be more for specialists than generalists. “Plain vanilla” developers are watching their wages remain steady, and entry-level developers are in tough competition with more experienced overseas workers within the same salary range. It seems like not many companies want to make a long-term investment in less-experienced developers who show promise, and even fewer want to put anything into their existing staff.

The trend of hiring to fill knowledge gaps instead of training will only increase. The really bright spots are for people with in-demand, specialized skills, such as Silverlight and mobile developers. It looks like Ruby and Rails will also have more demand as time goes on.

I also think this is a great opportunity for independent consultants. Companies have learned to be choosy enough about projects that their overall need for workers may stay the same in terms of total developers needed, but they are much more likely to need certain skill sets for limited periods of time.


Intranet 2.0: Integrating Web Apps for True Productivity

The intranets of yesterday were primarily used for document storage and/or simple news. But the next generation of intranets can be much more, especially when we start integrating web applications. Take SharePoint and Office Web Apps for example.

Office Web Apps and SharePoint

Microsoft launched ‘Office Web Apps’ back in June, primarily as a direct competitor to the more established ‘Google Docs’ . Essentially the suite includes web based versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote.

I’m not going to cover the features and limitations of the software here, but suffice to say each application is a cut down version of its desktop parent. Word and Excel are probably the most advanced, with PowerPoint and OneNote lagging a little way behind.

Microsoft have made the tools available to end users via three different methods:

  • Windows Live (including hotmail, and more recently Facebook).
  • What is now called ‘Office365’, but was formally the Microsoft ‘Business Productivity Online Services’. BPOS is a cloud based subscription service.
  • Hosted locally as part of a SharePoint server system.

The last two channels are of most interest to us here, where Office Web Apps are used in conjunction with an Intranet or other enterprise systems — email, file storage, communications tool.

The Real Intranet 2.0

The second coming of the Intranet has been long promised. The excitement generated by the hype of the ‘web 2.0’ a few years ago brought us close to this goal, with social networking and community style features changing the way people thought in the enterprise environment. But web applications could offer a true revolution in the workplace, one whose practical applications are much more immediate. A revolution where users are freed from the traditional software model, and the Intranet being the center of the office is finally a reality.

Let us use Office Web Apps and SharePoint as an example. SharePoint has always featured strong document management features, and with the right adoption strategies it is possible to get users thinking of their Intranet as a central secure document repository.

Now we can throw Office Web Apps into the mix. Seamlessly integrated with SharePoint, users can now create, edit and amend Office documents directly in the browser. There is no need to open a desktop application, there is no need to actually have a local app installed at all. Everything can be done through the browser (‘everything’ being not quite ‘everything’ right now, what with the limited feature set of the current release — but let’s put that aside for a moment).

This also frees users from their desktop machines, and allows them to maintain productivity remotely across a range of devices or on the move. The Intranet becomes more than a document store, it now becomes a rich web application in itself.

Microsoft, as you would expect, is not the only game in town. Google Apps have been available for enterprise outfits for some time, and the service has recently been upgraded to offer a wider range of applications. These include services covering streaming media, shared calendars and communications services — proving web apps don’t just need to stick to the traditional office application space.

In fact we should think of web applications, integrated to our Intranets, in as broad as sense as possible. The web is teeming with innovative services and applications. Online photo editing, audio creation, communications, media streaming — the list is almost endless.

The future of Intranets is one where these services are built in, and offer end users a functional toolbox. They no longer need to think of the Intranet as simply a storage area, and something separate to the tools they need to actually generate content and documents. The Intranet could be the center of everything.

Final Thoughts

Whilst remote access and thin client technology are nothing new, the kind of integration we have looked at in this piece is a step change. For a long time people have been told that the Intranet should be the center of their working day, but now this is a distinct possibility. Gone are the days where the Intranet was simply about retrieving files and reading news, it is now a tool in itself.

The boundaries between applications, storage, and delivery are becoming increasingly blurred. The user does not need to worry about having the correct program installed, or being on the right machine, they can simply focus on the tasks at hand.

We are only just beginning to understand how web applications can integrate with our Intranets. There are huge and immediate advantages for users working outside of the traditional office environment. But even for those desk bound workers a brave new dawn might be just around the corner.


W3C: HTML5 Spec Due in 2014

The World Wide Web Consortium has reset its timeline for the delivery of HTML5 to see a final version of the specification in 2014.

The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) has established a more defined timeline for the HTML5 specification, shooting for May 2011 as the last call date and a final full spec by 2014.

The W3C extended the charter of the HTML Working Group with clear milestones for HTML5, the cornerstone of W3C’s Open Web Platform for application development. Coming in May 2014, the "Last Call" phase of the HTML5 spec proffers an invitation to communities inside and outside the W3C to confirm the technical soundness of the specification. The group will then shift focus to gathering implementation experience. The W3C is developing a comprehensive test suite to achieve broad interoperability for the full specification by 2014, the target date for Recommendation, the W3C said in a press release.

The 2014 time frame is significant because the W3C has had different targets for the HTML5 spec, including not seeing the final specification until 2022.

"Even as innovation continues, advancing HTML5 to Recommendation provides the entire Web ecosystem with a stable, tested, interoperable standard," Jeff Jaffe, W3C CEO, said in a statement. "The decision to schedule the HTML5 Last Call for May 2011 was an important step in setting industry expectations. Today we take the next step, announcing 2014 as the target for Recommendation."

Although W3C officials have warned developers not to adopt the HTML5 capabilities prematurely, the standards body also is encouraging developers to implement HTML5 where appropriate. For example, the Apple iPad supports HTML5 and Apple even recently redesigned its homepage using HTML5 technologies. Microsoft also is betting heavily on HTML5 in its Internet Explorer 9 (IE9) browser technology

By setting a date for HTML5 standardization, the W3C will ensure broad interoperability of the emerging Web technologies over a variety of platforms—from mobile browsers to Web on TV, W3C officials said.

The W3C said there are more than 50 organizations participating in the HTML Working Group, all committed to royalty-free licensing under the W3C Patent Policy. There are more than 400 individuals from all over the world in the group, including designers, content authors, accessibility experts, and representatives from browser vendors, authoring tool vendors, telecoms, equipment manufacturers and other IT companies.

Meanwhile, as the audience for the Web platform continues to grow, so does the need for interoperability among the many technologies of W3C’s Open Web Platform, including HTML5, CSS, SVG, WOFF, various APIs and more. Nearly all of these technologies are already in use, at varying degrees of maturity and implementation.

Additionally, because HTML5 anchors the Open Web Platform, the W3C has started work on a test suite to ensure high levels of interoperability. The W3C invites test suite contributions from the community, which will enable software implementers to fulfill the W3C’s implementation criteria and make it easier to create content and applications. The testing effort will play an important role in the timely completion of the standard.

As part of developing IE9, which is in a "release candidate" phase, Microsoft submitted thousands of tests to the W3C and other standards groups. In a Feb. 10 blog post, Dean Hachamovitch, corporate vice president for Internet Explorer at Microsoft, said:

"Implementing Web standards is just the start of our commitment to an interoperable Web and Same Markup. Comprehensive test suites developed through the standards bodies are crucial to making sure that browser vendors implement these standards consistently. With this Release Candidate we’ve added over a thousand new test cases for JavaScript and updated over fifty test cases based on community feedback. During IE9 development we have now submitted just under 4000 test cases in total for standards like HTML5. We have submitted these tests to the appropriate standards bodies for feedback and eventual inclusion in their official test suites. You can try them out for yourself at the IE Test Center."

Also, according to the W3C, stable standards play an important role in the broad deployment of technology. As reference points, they make it easier for large numbers of independent implementers to achieve interoperability across diverse platforms, devices and industries. This is particularly important in the rich ecosystem of HTML producers and consumers, which includes authoring tools, browsers, e-mail clients, security applications, content management systems, tools to analyze or convert content, assistive technologies, and unanticipated applications. Stable standards with community support give developers and implementers confidence that what they build today will continue to work in the future, the W3C said.

Meanwhile, as part of the mission of the W3C HTML Working Group to continue the evolution of HTML, W3C Director Tim Berners-Lee also encourages the group to begin discussion of requirements for future versions of HTML.


Do SEO the Right Way

Search engine optimization, or SEO, is a powerful way for businesses to draw traffic to their Web sites and–they hope–increase sales along the way. Today, in fact, you might even say it’s a foolish company that doesn’t use some kind of SEO, because its competitors most certainly do.

But SEO is a tricky business. You must walk a fine line between helping the search engine recognize your relevance on certain topics and deceiving it with artificially exaggerated signals. JCPenney, whether intentionally or not, took the latter route.

A New York Times report recently called attention to the fact that JCPenney had been at the top of Google’s search rankings for a wide variety of products throughout this past holiday season. Those high rankings weren’t the just reward for stellar popularity or one-of-a-kind marketing prowess, however; they were the result of black hat SEO techniques, presumably used by SearchDex, the SEO firm JCPenney has since fired.

To be precise, thousands of links were placed on hundreds of sites across the Web–many of them completely unrelated to the keywords in question, some apparently abandoned, but all leading to

That’s a huge no-no in the Google world, and JCPenney’s results have now reportedly been deflated again. (In other cases, it should be noted, Google has not been so kind. On catching BMW performing similar tricks a few years ago, Google actually removed the company from its search results for a while, as The Times points out.)

The story raises all sorts of questions not only about black hat techniques like these–which, however morally reprehensible, are generally not actually illegal–but also about Google’s behavior, given that the company that succeeded in getting away with the tricks for so long happened to be a major advertiser.

Such questions aside, however, it’s also an excellent opportunity to draw out some key lessons about how SEO should and shouldn’t be done.

1. Pay Attention

Particularly given that JCPenney says it knew nothing of the links and that SearchDex has thus far declined to comment, the case is a good reminder for small businesses that they had better be aware and stay aware of the optimization techniques being used on their behalf.

Whether it is someone in-house or an outside firm, don’t simply assume that those handling your SEO are doing it ethically and well. Scrutinize budget requests and pay attention not just to results but also to the means used to achieve those ends. Sometimes, as in JCPenney’s case, the long-term results might outweigh any short-term gains.

2. Know Thy Master

Google has a fairly lengthy set of guidelines for webmasters, including quality rules distinguishing what is and isn’t acceptable. Your SEO team should be intimately familiar with these, but it’s a good idea to be familiar with them yourself, the better to judge your SEO team’s efforts.

3. Take the High Road

According to SEO software maker SEOmoz, acquiring links from known link brokers and sellers is the second worst thing you can do for your search engine rankings. (The very worst thing, it says, is "cloaking with a malicious/manipulative intent," or presenting different content to search engines than you display to users, while next in line is linking to Web spam sites.)

Undertaking such illegitimate tactics is, from an SEO perspective, like shooting yourself in the proverbial foot. Don’t do it! Just a singe instance could bring Google’s wrath down on you, as we also saw in the DecorMyEyes case late last year.

The five best things you can focus on in your SEO efforts are the following, according to SEOmoz:

  • Keyword-focused anchor text from external links, or the specific words external sites use as anchor text to link to your site.
  • External link popularity, which considers the quantity and quality of external links to your site.
  • A diversity of link sources.
  • Keyword use anywhere in the title tag.
  • The trustworthiness of the domain based on its "link distance" from trusted domains.

JCPenney’s links, of course, used anchor text carefully chosen to match search terms like "dresses" or "home decor," and they were placed on a large number of sites, albeit poor-quality ones.

A much better approach is to stick to legitimate SEO strategies to make your site visible.

4. Communicate Your Intent

Make it known to everyone involved in your online efforts that you will not tolerate the use of unscrupulous SEO tactics. That’s doubly important when you’re in the hiring process. Individuals can be tempted by the prospect of winning their employer short-term results, so it’s up to you to make sure that temptation doesn’t overpower your corporate goals.

5. Keep Tabs

Assuming it was ignorant of them, JCPenney could probably have uncovered its SEO problems before the New York Times did by using webmaster tools such as SEOmoz’s Open Site Explorer, which was used in the report. Billed as a link popularity checker and backlink analysis tool, Open Site Explorer is free for up to 1000 links with metrics. Another such tool is Yahoo’s Site Explorer. You need to use such tools regularly to monitor your search traffic, rankings and backlinks for any irregularities.

Of course, the JCPenney story is of particular concern to companies that outsource their SEO. This is a very common practice, and the story highlights how dangerous it can be. Just as close supervision is critical to the outsourcing of other functions, such customer support, so it is for SEO.


learn_from_jcpenney_and_do_seo_the_right_way.html makes further Drupal code contribution


The White House blog states that White House New Media Director Macon Phillips announced a second release of code to the Drupal community at the Tech@State: Open Source event that took place at the State Department. According to the blog, has also helped to support development of a number of Drupal related projects.

The developers of the US Presidential web site switched to open source web site management system Drupal to manage the site in October of 2009 and have already made a previous contribution of code.

This second code contribution consists of a set of tools intended to improve the functionality of the popular IMCE file manager. The IMCE Tools have three major functions; an interface to control the directories a user can access via the IMCE module, a file search function and a file path function that presents the URL of a file for sharing as a link.


Joomla vs. Drupal: An open source CMS shootout


Choosing a Web content management system often comes down to one question: Joomla or Drupal?

For many organizations (or individuals) with content to post and manage, blog tools like the highly popular WordPress may be more than adequate. But for companies with greater amounts of content, users, or complexity, including integration with ecommerce and also with other internal and external applications, a more comprehensive content management systems (CMS) is needed.

Here’s a look at two popular open source content management systems: Drupal and Joomla! (the exclamation point is part of the official name, tsk tsk, but for punctuative simplicity I’m omitting it for the rest of this article). I’ve asked developers to weigh in on the strengths, weaknesses and unique features each offers, to help determine which is the best match for your organization’s content needs.

Before we begin, it should be noted that both Joomla and Drupal keep getting updated — e.g., Joomla 1.6 was released January 10, 2011, and Drupal 7 on January 5, 2011 — and get more add-on modules. This is a good thing, obviously. But it also means that the opinions expressed in this article may become outdated or invalidated. As always.


Marketing your small businesses? Here are three tips for success

Sure, your business website may be on the World Wide Web, but that doesn’t mean your site needs to attract a global audience to be effective. The fact is, a well-designed website can help you expand your local market and build customers in your own home town.

Local search marketing can help you advertise to potential customers that are in your community as they search for products and services online – which you are ready and willing to sell them.

Once these visitors get to your website, however, how can you turn potential customers into paying customers? The key to getting the sale is a measure of how usable your website is. Given how important the Internet is for businesses, having just anyone build your website can be a recipe for disaster.

More than 60 percent of small businesses have a website today, but 51 percent of those had their first website created by a friend, family member or themselves. When it comes to website development, find a full-service company that can help guide and support you. The right company will help you choose the package that fits your needs, provide copywriting that will help sell your service or product, and design a website that will help reinforce your brand, enhance credibility and attract new customers.

There are also ways beyond the website to market your business. Leaving sharp,custom brochures around town can be another avenue to help get your business’s message across to a consumer. Tri-fold brochures can be a great and colorful way to get your business or special event some needed notoriety and publicity, while offering a professional way to tell your story.

An expertly designed color brochure is a versatile handout and self-mailer that can be easily customized with your name, logo, products, location, guarantee and promotional offer.

Thinking – and marketing – locally can be an effective way of making your small business really take off.


Finding web app vulnerability earlier saves time and money

The longer the time between the generation of code in a web application with a security vulnerability and the discovery of that vulnerability, the more time and money a developer will need to fix it, noted Bill Pennington, chief strategy officer with WhiteHat.

By finding vulnerabilities earlier in systems development life cycle (SDLC), companies can increase their overall web application security. Vulnerabilities identified in the development stage can be remediated by developers at a much lower cost than after the site goes live, Pennington said.

The WhiteHat chief strategy officer told Infosecurity that customers that have more than one or two websites have a lot of security vulnerabilities to deal with. “What we find is that the number of inputs in a given website that are vulnerable is about 1%”, he said.

“Web application vulnerabilities are the number one attack vector bad guys are using to attack companies today”, Pennington said.

To provide website application vulnerability data prior to production deployment, the company is introducing its Sentinel SDLC product, which finds vulnerabilities through the SDLC pre-production phases of website development.

The Sentinel SDLC product is designed to fit into a company’s existing development cycle rather than requiring it to work around inflexible vulnerability assessment tools or processes, explained Ravi Iyer, product specialist at WhiteHat.

“We have been hearing from our customers that it would great to catch vulnerabilities before they go into production. Our customers love the fact that we provided verified vulnerabilities, which means no false positives. They wanted us to keep that….And they wanted this done within a three-day time period”, he told Infosecurity.

“Fixing problems in the production cycle costs a lot more than fixing it in the development environment. A key driver is costs”, Iyer added.
Sentinel SDLC offers tests that developers can customize for timing, unit-testing specific areas of the site, or targeting particular vulnerabilities such as cross-site scripting, he said.

By assessing preproduction sites prior to the production deployment of new code, Sentinel SDLC reduces overall remediation costs while reducing risk before the site is pushed to production and exposed to potential security threats, Iyer said. “The earlier you find a problem and fix it, whether it is a security bug or some other bug, the less your costs are”, he added.


10 Web Development Tips to Better Your Website Success – Part 2

Work with a company that is going to be around a year from the time you employ them, too many customers I have met have been left in limbo because the company or individual they were dealing with has gone bust or skipped the country to leave you in the middle of nowhere.

In summary there are a number of aspects to take into consideration before making your web developer choice.

I am confident this article with the above 10 tips will help you qualify the best company to deal with for your new web project.

The majority of the 10 tips should already be covered by your chosen development company, but it does not hurt you to double-check.

I highly recommend you ask your chosen company questions based on my 10 tips above, this will help establish them as the right business to deal with.

All successful web projects are a result of planning and evaluating, failing to plan and evaluate your development choices could mean failure of your website.

Choose wisely and approach everything smartly, remember if you put in the leg/foot work to start with, you will reap the benefits later.


10 Web Development Tips to Better Your Website Success – Part 1


Starting a new Web project? Not sure how to choose the right web company? Then you must read this. Quality web development services can majorly affect the end result of your web project. Not only that, but professional web development will also future proof your project Here are 10 simple tips that will help you better your web success.

The most common mistake any company or individual can make when venturing out on a new website project is to assume that design is everything. I can assure you that your website’s design on its own is not what will make you successful.

A quality and professional web development service is what will affect the success of your website and its online objectives.

High standards (above industry) are developed for a reason, and that is to ensure the product and service you receive is of paramount quality and to a professional level, so that your website will function as intended and provide the right return on investment.

Too many businesses that are relying on the success of their website to help drive their business will bypass the crucial step of dealing with a professional web development company based on price.

In this article I will reveal 10 tips to choose the right development company and how it will better your web project’s success.

10 Tips to Choose the Right Web Development Company

1. Track Record – Choose a company that has an established track record.
      Generally a web company that has more than 15+ websites that they have designed or developed in-house with case studies to show their achievements. Any qualifications or awards won will also help establish this.

2. Methodology – Ensure your chosen company has a strong web development methodology or process.
      This means that when your chosen company develops your website you can track the progress of your project and ensure all key quality standards are covered.

3. Usability – Design does play a heavy role in the development of your web project.
      Ensure the company you choose has strong visitor usability and user-friendly interaction knowledge.
      Usability is how visitors will interact with your website and how effectively they reach your end goal.

4. Development Team – The company you choose should have an in-house development team.
      Don’t use a company that is going to send your project work off to another country or other out-sourced web companies. You don’t want to be chasing an invisible rabbit down a hole should things be affected by an unforeseen event.

5. Design Team – Your web company ideally should have an in-house design team, unless you are dealing with another individual or company for design.
      This tip relates to tip 3, if your web company has a designer in-house this will better the success of the project as the development will mirror the design better and its objectives.

6. SEO – Choose a web development company that has an understanding of search engine optimization.
      Another important factor to any web projects success is making sure the company you deal with knows about SEO and how it will affect your website.

7. Social Media – Social media is a new form of marketing and can drive great results.
      Dealing with a web developer that understands this can help you drive better traffic and alternative forms of login.This tip applies to socially active websites and e-commerce based projects.

8. Content – Content is the biggest thing that pushes your website and draws in your visitors.
      Content will be the main thing that will sell your services or product, the company you deal with should have good development techniques to structure content effectively.

9. E-commerce – Choose a web development company that has e-commerce experience.
      E-commerce is fast becoming the biggest way to make money online, how your customers make payments is very important. Make sure you deal with a development company that can recommend and implement the best payment methods available.

10. Support – The most important tip to date, your development company must be able to support you as a customer and provide ongoing maintenance and service.