Why Open Source Eventually Wins

JavaScript/HTML5 > Flash > Java
MySQL > lots of others
Wikpedia > Encarta
Free App Servers > IIS, WebSphere, iPlanet

FirefoxOS > iOS > Android?

I worked on Adobe/Macromedia Flash for a number of years and eventually Open Source won.  In software features have an arc.  Eventually, it flattens out after the most commonly used features are added.  Flash Player had a lot of big powerful features initially: XML support in version 4, audio/video in 6, ActionScript 3 in 8, 3D and GPU support in 9.  After that, it got harder and harder to find killer features.

In comes HTML5 who slowly comes around with native video support, canvas, GPU.  It’s essentially re-writing all the features that Flash had but native.  Flash Player flattened out to the point where standards and browsers could catch up and surpass Flash in some aspects. This also applies to Microsoft Word and Photoshop reached feature stability about 5 years ago.

So how can Firefox’s phone operating system compete with the big boys: iOS and Android?  Well, when features flatten out, open source thrives.

Mozilla Persona WordPress Plugin Beta

I’m running a custom version of the Mozilla Persona WordPress Plugin.  This allows you, dear reader, to easily make a comment on this blog and identify yourself with your existing email accounts.  If you use yahoo.com account, it’s a seamless experience (gmail coming soon).  Go ahead try it out.  Click on the little comment bubble on top right.

For bloggers, this will help reduce anonymous spammers and trolls at the same time, I don’t have to setup some database and encryption of your passwords.  Mozilla Persona acts as a broker between your existing email provider and my WordPress blog.  Blog owners now can send a message to their readers that they respect them!  Do it, all the cool kids are…

Wait for version 0.44 which should have some new features for commenting:

http://wordpress.org/plugins/browserid/

Agile is the new duct tape

I’ve seen Agile software development at a few places.  I’ve been on both sides, a manager who helped deploy scrum for my team and contributor, participating in a scrum/sprint team.  Here’s a breakdown from my experience:

Pros:

  • Motivation moves from just worker/manager relationship to peer based influence. People don’t want to look dumb and they want to show their peers that they contribute at a high level.
  • Allows for a bit more chaos and schedule uncertainty than traditional approaches (waterfall, gantt charts).
  • You fail faster.  So you can course correct more quickly.  It’s a bit more realistic about the realities of software challenges rather than conforming to perfect charts to success.
  • Workers get a taste of more empowerment and voice in the process. Managers have perceived less control of team members.

Cons:

  • No one ever truly follows or hits burn down charts.  No one wants to hear the truth that features take a long time and nothing can be done to speed that up, other than quickly unblocking people.
  • It doesn’t make software delivery more predictable.
  • Traditional managers get uncomfortable with less control.  They don’t feel as much control in dictating what people work on or direct the team.
  • With the gains in cross-training, you lose in decreased efficiency of non-experts working on new code.  This isn’t a faster process in the short term.

As a manager of a automation tools team, it was great.  We were independent and able to work quickly.  However, we had little oversight and pressure to delivery on specific dates.  This worked for that group.  As an individual contributor in a different team, I felt a huge burden to try and hit my assigned dates, which I didn’t do that often.  My burn down chart contributions were used against me and it did help me realize I wasn’t really a proper developer. I just didn’t code fast enough.

Overall, Agile tries to bandage software development process by grabbing a few concepts of progressive motivation models paired with some tracking elements such as burn down charts and crowd source development estimates.  It’s a great step for old school software companies that are stuck in command/control based approach.  However, a lower level philosophy of worker motivation and behavior could really help push innovation and worker empowerment.  That will have to be another blog post.

Redemption

Redemption is a big word. I’m going to take the liberty of using it. After a few years of being unhappy at various past jobs, I’ve found myself in a place were I’ve found my Flow. That fabled place where your brain focuses and time seems to slip away. I used to think “they wouldn’t call it work if it didn’t suck, they’d call it ‘play’”. All jobs suck. No matter where you are.

As a student of people, culture, and process, I found myself on a journey in understanding workplace motivation. Motivation in many ways is the key to Flow. If you ever read the book Flow, you’ll realize that the book identifies the phenomenon but doesn’t give practical advice on how to get into ‘flow.’ I started working as a QA manager at Mozilla. I really had no idea what I was getting into; yeah I knew it was open source and that they were a non-profit. But joining Mozilla was a epiphany in work place culture. At the same time I picked up a book called Drive. The book described a lot of the new feelings I had about this new job.  Words like worker autonomy, carrots and sticks, purpose, and mastery were being thrown around.  What I discovered can be broken down into a few concepts:

  • Title hierarchy, top-down decision making, burn down charts and backlogs are generally control mechanisms and only take away worker autonomy, one of the core pieces of motivation
  • Working for money and not personal pride, development of mastery, or greater purpose creates bitterness.  Another way to describe ‘golden hand-cuffs.’
  • In order to feed creativity and innovation, you must remove rigid concepts of time and space. Workers must be motivated enough to contribute even if it isn’t between nine to five.

For me, Mozilla and open source has been a form of redemption from my past bitterness and negativity. I left behind my fight of ‘The Man’ or the evil corporation. And what I found is little zen garden inside myself and on a little corner in San Francisco.

 

 

Insiders Look at Software Success and Failure

Why does software suck? How could they fail?  You look at failures such as Windows Vista, Nokia phones, MySpace, Yahoo and Sun’s collapse.  You ask yourself, how does anyone release anything like this.  How could you lead the pack then fall to a penny stock.  Each of those failures could have their own article.

My experience at 2 companies, which are nameless to protect the innocent, are case studies of just such a falls and sustained success.

Company A

Rise to success:

  • Get lucky: fill a need, make deals with the right players and position yourself to win
  • Don’t be evil: don’t get tied up into marketing or data mining people’s privacy to make a buck.
  • Keep it Simple: install fast, be seemless, remove barriers to experience
  • Leader who lead: sheppards the vision, cares about product for what it is… not the money it makes.
Fall from grace:
  • Getting big: exceed the 150 person team ( dunbar number).
  • Don’t fire anyone: Mediocre people keep getting paid, no rewards without any punishment.

Big teams need more managers, project coordinators, meetings, process, approvals.  Big equals task centralization, isolated knowledge, decisions makers are farther from innovative ideas.  Not being able to manage big is the root cause of failure.  You can’t simply slink into big, you need to have progressive ideas, political theory to manage large groups.  It’s as the same as running a 20 seat cafe and 500 person dining room.  You can’t just do it organically. Guys that just got promoted will naturally start merging teams and centralizing work because that’s what they think they should do…  And in an industry where innovation is king… you slow innovation and lose site of what got you there.

To be continued…

Why is Twitter Signifigant

I just re-read my twitter post from almost 2 yrs ago…  and as an actually daily user my perspective has changed.  Twitter is really a link feed with touches of web-metadata, web-annotation, public – user -controlled – maven – connector aggregator.  In some ways, search flipped on it’s head.  Rather than you searching for crap, it finds you through influencers (people you follow).  It’s pretty different then facebook status, which is more like friend chatter.

So is Twitter significant.  Yes, because it’s really a search feed with humans providing the data.  You mom or grandfather may not use it, but for media sponges, it’s essential.  Rather than searching for ipad, and having google telling you what’s relevant, you search your 10 media mavens, who link to some doc or reviews and tell you what they think.  It democratizes search relevance with a human curator.  It will always be niche-power users but I’m sure they’re thinking about how to take it more to the main stream.

Why Travel?

I always thought travel a lot would provide life altering perspective that would make people into Buddhas.  But in reality it doesn’t.  People who travel can be the same ass holes as any one else.  They can be stupid, exploitative, whatever.  So you party a lot with different people.  You lived on $5 a day.  Maybe I was naive to think that travelers are all enlightened, but they’re not.

I guess, if you travel, do it for yourself.

Looking back at my posts when I was in China and Japan, I think about how did those experiences change me?  How am I better, more understanding, more enlightened.  My conclusion is it’s something you can’t measure.  I don’t even remember half of those experiences.  No one knows why we remember some things and forget others.  But in the end it all gets distilled… and stuffed into our souls.

mac 10.6 snow leopard has no features

It’s amazing to me that Apple can sell you almost nothing for $29. 10.6 is slightly faster but for most mac users, nearly not a single major feature. At work, I use exchange, and mail is much better. Almost usable minus scheduling a meeting.

Apple is the real snake oil dealer. They think they they can sell something as long as they put enough marketing around it. Here’s a dialog i image:

I’m an Edwin: so why should i upgrade to 10.6
I’m a mac: Here’s a box with a cute cat on it.

I’m an Edwin: What are the cool new features
I’m a mac: bunch of stuff, but you can’t see it.

It’s a bit insulting.

Food is better in Japan

Pizza

I’ve had pizza 2 times now in Japan, at fairly nice Italian restaurants and I have to say it’s awesome.  It’s better than most restaurants in San Francisco.  We had La Verde and Salvatores in Kyoto and the first was cracker thin, nice crunch like something you’d find in Italy.  The other was more like Brooklyn style.  Nice char, like from a coal oven but chewy and a touch of salt.  Comparing this to Pizzeria Delfina or some north beach pizza, it was way better.  It wasn’t cheap, about 15 – 18 for mediums.  But no tip or tax.

Sushi

You may not have known this but Japan doesn’t really have that many sushi places.  I would say San Francisco has more for the number of people.  Sushi is a rare treat for many and the best places are $100s of dollars per person.  They have a lot of bad sushi too, they got the sushi boats here that are really basic.   You do get sushi often in the bento boxes at rail stations or convenience stores.  But my lady and I went to to a average prices place… and every pieces was really good.  There’s something bout the confidence of the chefs also…  They seem to have a lot of style when they make something for you.  You can describe is as a bit of precision with a bit of artistry.  Overall the quality was amazingly good.  My favorite is Sebo in San Francisco.  Which is my point of reference, and I’ve had some pieces as good at Sebo, but overall, not every piece.  Sebo puts a bit more salt and sugar in the rice, which I prefer.  A side note, If you’re also not familiar with sushi in Japan, no wasabi in the soy sauce.  You should flip the fish so it touches you tongue first.  You can use your hands.

Tempura

We just ducked into a chain Tempura house in Harijuku.  Again, everything was great.  The flavor of the batter really shines, a bit more sugar than you’d expect.  Server over rice, my partner and I were blown away.  I also had it with soba, and that was delicious also, it was so good, it was as if I had never had Tempura before.  We have yet to try high end tempura houses… it’s usually $40 -50 a person. So this is just the tip of the iceberg.

Japan Shock

I’m already half way through my trip but here are the first few things I noticed:

  • Everyone is very quiet.  All you hear is footsteps.
  • It’s possibly the most structured orderly society on the planet.  People conform and follow rules.
  • People are extremely generous, good natured, and have a strong work ethic in whatever they do.
  • The ergonomics of life are important.  Everything process has been thought about.  How to open things, little gadgets to do simple things, even down to textured Q-tips.

Every action has an equal and opposite reaction.  So goes the hacked up Newton law.  But with all the order and structure, somethings gotta give.  It actually becomes a bit frustrating that people are so kind, thankful, and polite.  There are times you are so grateful for everyone helping and wearing such a big smile.

But something happens with creativity.  I think Japan is very creative, but it’s channelled into safer ways such as optimizing or bringing order to something.  This isn’t a new concept.  Japan is the king of taking things and making them better…  but generally, not inventing new things.  It’s kinda like walking into someone’s room that’s a mess and feeling at home to a very sterile environment.  The mess sometimes is the source of creativity.  Where cleanliness only creates order and coloring in the lines.

The real contrast is comparing Japan with Beijing.  Beijing has had a lot of oppression in the culture, and out of that, they dig deep and have touched some raw sense of creativity.  China won’t have the fit and finish that Japan has, but it makes up for it with raw passion and creativity.  Both countries are at extreme ends of this spectrum.  We will have to see what happens.