Tuesday, 16 December 2008

Return of the Thick Client?

Web 2.0 is taking all sorts of unexpected directions. The latest to come to my attention are two initiatives aimed at offloading processor load from server to client.

First up, Google announced a new developer project named Native Client. With Native Client, Google aims to "give web developers access to the full power of the client's CPU while maintaining the browser neutrality, OS portability and safety that people expect from web applications." As far as I can see, it's what Java Applets were originally designed to do - and look how successful they've been. At least outside the enterprise environment (where desktop configurations tend to be strictly controlled), applets suffered from the "write once, debug everywhere" syndrome and have largely fallen out of use. It'll be interesting to see whether an Internet-savvy company like Google makes a success of this new approach.

Next, a start-up named Good OS has announced Cloud, "a browser operating system". I am trying hard to get my head around that concept. They claim that it's an environment for enhancing the user's Internet experience and that it can be co-hosted on Windows, Linux or other operating systems. If I have read the scant information available correctly, the idea is that your machine will start up already logged on to your favourite portal (Yahoo, Google, Windows Live...) and that core applications such as Skype, which are accessed from a MacOS-like object dock, run within their own dedicated browser tab on top of Cloud's integrated compressed Linux kernel. Whenever you need to, you can switch to the native OS with a single key press.

Unfortunately the "Why Cloud?" page on Good OS's web site is unfinished, so it is difficult to comprehend the vision behind the product. A clue might be that it is being bundled with the Gigabyte touch-screen Netbook models and so looks like a lower-cost alternative to Windows CE. Perhaps the company is aiming for an "Internet Appliance" niche. It made a name for itself by supplying the gOS Linux operating system for the ultra-low-cost Wal-Mart PCs.

Monday, 15 December 2008

Testing web applications? Cucumber is the cool new kid on the block

I've had quite complimentary things to say about Canoo WebTest, but one thing it doesn't provide out of the box is a representation of the tests that your average customer is able to read and understand intuitively - that is to say, a tabular format like Fit or a narrative of the "Given... when... then... " form.

Cucumber to the rescue! I heard several people mention this at the recent XP Day in London. I hope to investigate it in more depth soon.

I would be interested to know whether it can be used to test anything other than Ruby code and whether it can drive a web browser to interact with Rich Internet Applications (RIAs). Stuart Ervine's and Nat Pryce's GWT development demo at XP Day was truly impressive. Nat has combined WebDriver with WindowLicker to create a clean interface between a test script and synchronous or asynchronous RIAs. But telling a jUnit test to move the mouse cursor into a particular widget and click the button was nothing if not verbose!

Thursday, 4 December 2008

Sending SMS texts from the PC desktop

Ever left your mobile at home and needed to send a text to someone? And even to receive that person's reply without access to your phone? Or just found that ten-finger typing is quicker than predictive TXTing with two thumbs?

I've discovered Vodafone Text Centre does the job (see feature summary in the attached message). You can install it for free, but note that the cost of SMS messages you send using Text Centre goes on to your normal Vodafone mobile account.

There's a very comprehensive manual and online help. Make sure your Outlook isn't running before you start installing (use Task Manager to kill it if necessary).

In a test here in the office, I found that my first outgoing message was delivered in just a few seconds, whereas the reply took around 10 minutes to reach my Outlook inbox (you can choose to have the reply routed to your mobile instead, of course, which is quicker but means that you don't have access to Outlook's convenience features when forwarding or filing the reply).

If you're in the habit of leaving Outlook running when you leave the office, you can also get Text Centre to alert you by SMS when you receive an e-mail (or only for high-priority e-mails) or to send you an SMS alert of upcoming appointments.

Overall, I am impressed. With Vodafone Text Centre you can:
  • Send text messages to individuals and groups from your PC, using your existing contacts and distribution lists.
  • Choose to have replies sent to your mobile phone or to your e-mail inbox.
  • Receive appointment reminders via text messages.
  • Choose to receive text messages to notify you of urgent e-mails.
Vodafone says that Text Centre will be upgraded on a regular basis, so suggests that you visit the website from time to time to ensure you have the most up-to-date version of the software.