Thursday, March 27, 2008

.NET and Open Source

Generally one would not associate Microsoft .NET with open source. But I have come across 2 tools built on .NET which are Open Source and free to use.From the looks of it , they seem to be pretty impressive.I have used one of them PAINT .NET, which is an alternative for GIMP and Adobe Photoshop. I have never used Photoshp but seen some people use it. Paint .NET is pretty impressive in those terms. It may not the features the experts look for(don know coz its really not my cup of tea), but it sure has some nice features of an image editor. Here are some of my pics that I modified with it.

Impressive, isn't it? You can download it from Another one is Creative Docs .NET. I haven't tried that one as yet but it should be as good I guess.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Orkut vs Facebook

When you are surfing where do you spend most of your time? Chances are with the Web 2.0 revolution you must be spending a substantial amount of your time online on Social Networking Sites like Orkut or Facebook! Well for those who are unaware, Orkut is the social networking site by Google which is extremely popular in India and Brazil. Facebook is the Social Networking site by 26 year old Mark Zuckerberg that has taken the US and the rest of the world by storm! I do not have statistics as to which one is more popular in the world but probably Facebook is way ahead of Orkut.

But when it comes to India, most likely if you have an account on any Social Networking Site it has to be Orkut. Probably the Google factor is the reason why Orkut caught attention of us Indians before Facebook. Within no time, you were a loser if you did not have an Orkut account. It was the in-thing for the youth. People could catch up with long lost friends. In some cases, people would search for long lost teenage crushes (that boy or girl in school who made your heart beat like oscillations of pistons in a steam engine!) and be happy to see that the subject was still single and praise Orkut for the infinite possibilities it opened up or be heartbroken once again to find that the subject was committed with a sentimental testimonial thrown in from the subject's love interest and curse Orkut for ruining your dreams! For some it would be teasing another friend on receiving a scrap from a hot girl, only finding out later from another person that the girl was your friends sister! It was about snooping into what people are doing online, which basically was a reflection of what people were doing in their lives. It provided the much needed masala to gupshup or bakchodi between friends. The openness of Orkut was something which worried some but it was essentialy the spice that kept people hooked on to the site. I was one of the people hooked on to it. I have had some unpleasant experiences as well. But overall, it was THE way to kill time.

Slowly, the abuse of the openness started. And around the same time Facebook as an alternative to Orkut started gaining ground. People talked about how Facebook was the most popular social site in US. People who loved Orkut for what it was didn't bither about Facebook. But many people joined it just to give it a try. Slowly but surely the privacy issue was moving in favor of Facebook. Many more joined it and stopped frequenting their Orkut accounts.

As a response Orkut introduced many features to control who has access to do what. While this feature is welcome, it has taken away the openness that once provided the spice to Orkut. Now, chances are that the girl with the beautiful photograph does not wish to receive you scrap for friendship. You cant scrap and hence are not looking forward to any response. Such features are already present on Facebook. But what Facebook has done by opening up itself to applications by third parties is phenomenal. In Orkut you can scrap, participate in communities and see what others are upto.

In facebook, with 3rd party applications, you can go a step further and play online games with your friends. The experience on facebook is more interactive and enriching than Orkut. If you haven't tried facebook then try at your risk. I have got a taste of the blood it has to offer and I must say that it seemed pretty delicious. Orkut is fine but I believe it is losing out to facebook.

Unless Google does something about this, Orkut may lose the No. 1 spot in India as well to Facebook.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

I've Been Fired!!

That is what many people in the Indian IT industry will be saying this year according to The Times of India. The recent months has not been good for the Indian Techie. The feel good factor of being in the IT Industry has diminished for many, even gone for some. Recently about 1800 or so employees were fired within the span of a week from companies like TCS and IBM, or at least the news of firing from both the companies was reported within a week of each other. Yahoo India's firing of their employees and giving them just half an hour to pack their things and leave the premises was one of the points of discussion among techies in Namma Bengaluru and elsewhere, over coffee, lunch or the much awaited break for a smoke. Even people who are safely employed are not very optimistic. "Don't expect a good hike this year. IT Industry is in a slowdown.", a colleague warned me."Something to do with some sub-prime crisis in the US. The US economy is also heading into a recession." I expect to hear something similar maybe when I have my discussion with my employer regarding the annual hike.

You know the situation is bleak when instead of hearing news about people you don't know, you hear news about people you know (including you). One of my friends was told that his services would not be required after March when the client for which he was working decided to close the project ( The client was severely hit by the mortgage crisis.) Thankfully, he got another job with a better pay. But not everyone would be as lucky as him. What about the people who were fired by IBM and TCS? Many of them were not freshers but people in the middle management. To get fired at such a point in your career! This is new for many of us Indians. And what about the hundreds of students who are joining engineering colleges in the hope that someday they end up in TCS, Infy or Wipro? Colleges like Vellore and Manipal have increased their intake by great numbers in the past few years. Since more than 90% of the students used to get placed in companies and with newspapers carrying reports of shortage of skilled IT professionals the bodies running these institutions decided to cash in on the gold rush. I being an alumni of Manipal am still in touch with some of my juniors and hear how the college has changed. From almost 800 students graduating in 2006, about 2000 are expected to graduate in 2012! What a phenomenal increase, but what about placements. Will the services companies like TCS and Infy still continue to hire in the same way they used to until now. With already there being a lot of talk about cost cutting and reducing or even in some cases eliminating the bench strength of these companies, I doubt that they are going to be in a hiring spree they were in over the past few years. The bench strength no longer remains a strength but is a turning to be a liability.

In fact, at a placement party in college a friend observed how great it was to be passing out when the placement boom was there. Another guy agreed, but said he failed to understand why were companies hiring so many people when they had so many people on bench, to which he got the response "Why the hell do you care! Be happy you got placed and enjoy the booze." While all of us certainly enjoyed the booze, we did wonder time and again what the rational was behind this bench policy, because it didn't have any common sense element to it.

While attending an ITIL foundation training I sort of understood what the management of these companies thought. Most of these companies provide Services to their clients. They have a Service Catalog or a list of services which they currently provide and a Service Pipeline or services which they plan to offer in the future. When designing your service you take a lot of factors into account. One of them is the availability of resources to accomplish your tasks. In the tough and competitive world today service companies cannot wait for a project to come and then look for resources. You need to be resource ready. That is one of the things that these companies show to their clients when they bid for projects, or at least that is what I have heard of. It does make sense for me as a client when you show me that you have 100 people who are trained and ready to fulfill my company's service requirements. But all these service companies in my view never anticipated a slowdown like the one that we see, which is the reason why they are in this situation today.

I have an analogy for this. In your growing years, say you need a certain intake of carbohydrates and fats, the intake varying over the years, less at first and increasing as the years go by, for you to grow into a well nourished person. But if you start eating extra food at the age of 10 saying that anyway you will be requiring this extra diet at the age of 17, what is going to happen? You will turn into an unhealthy and obese person, your extra diet now a liability. That is exactly the situation these companies find themselves in today, looking for ways to shed the extra fat in their skins.

So far this post has been depressing. What is going to happen? Well, I am not worried by the slowdown and neither is Bill Gates. He said in the past week that conditions were very favorable for the technology industry to grow in the next decade. I agree with him completely. If you are excited about the Apple i-phone and the upcoming Microsoft Surface and how the world is going to be a different place in the years to come, you have to see the video on Morph, a concept by Nokia based on Nanotechnology.

But what about the Indian Techie? I know many people in the services industry who are plain and simply bored of their jobs. Many of them feel that their engineering and analytical skills have been wasted doing the job that they are doing, mostly writing emails and filling excel sheet status reports. What is going to happen when there are highly talented and amibituous people with experience in the industry but no path which satisfies them? Some, not all but some, of them are going to be the contributors to the technological development that Bill Gates has talked about. When the dot-com bubble burst in the 1999/2000 era there weren't many options in terms of Open-Source software which could be used in production level environments. But now you got so many flavors of Linux and Open Source databases like MySQL and PostGRESQL! Even Sun Microsystems now follows an open source model. In 1999/2000 you needed to pay for this stuff. Now its available for free making it a lot easier for anyone to get their company up and running. The environment exists today for people to concentrate and invest on their core competencies and deliver better products and services and not worry about investing valuable dollars just for software like Microsoft Office. I read an interview of the founder of Juniper Networks where he said that post the 1999-2001 slowdown you could hire a lot of talented people at very low salaries making it the best time for his company to expand. Is a similar time coming in again?

We have already seen this year the launch of products designed and developed in India. Tata Nano has created a buzz worldwide. (Even though I tried very hard, I can't remember when was the last time something like that happened!) Spice has designed a new mobile phone which will cost less than $20. Are we going to see similar innovative products in the field of software and technology? Well, only time will tell, but I have a hunch we could have something in the making here!

What is wrong with Google?

The header certainly got your attention, didn't it? What can be wrong with Google? Almost for a decade now Google has been there for us, searching the internet and finding us what we want. Apart from search, Google has brought us services which are part of our daily lives now, services like Gmail, Orkut, YouTube, Blogger and Google News. I use most of these services and as I said earlier you would hardly ever get any disruptions in these services. So reliable is the Google brand that one of my friends said they dont need any error pages. Except Orkut of course, where we abuse the Orkut server for refusing us donuts!!

But in the past two weeks I feel things are starting to come apart. Firstly, with Google News there have been almost five instances when the service failed its service levels. These were disruptions that I myself experienced being an avid Google News visitor. Then the Gmail spam filter, has started detecting genuine mails as spam. The ironical thing was the mails sent to spam were from ZDnet and I have a filter in place to divert them from the inbox to archive folders under the label ZDnet. But i found my spam folder filled with six such messages today!!

Of course these are just minor errors, but given my nature to speculate and the fact that such disruptions and mistakes have happened in a very short span of time, I thought I write about it.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Just Like That - a PJ??

 An accomplished lawyer of the 60s era was visiting his grandson who was a developer. The lawyer was sitting on the sofa reading a newspaper while his grandson was on his laptop coding something.

Suddenly, the grandson sweared "*#@$&@#&$". Startled his grandfather said, "Son, whatever the matter, you shouldn't use words like those"

"Sorry about that grandpa! It's just that every time I run my program, OS shuts it down saying it has performed an illegal operation"

"Do you think it has performed any illegal operation?", asked the lawyer.

"I don't know. I don't think so!"

"Then ask that OS guy to prove that your program is illegal in court. I will take care of him."

Broken Laptop Screen

I saw from some distance a colleague in office using his laptop keyboard and desktop monitor. Intrigued, I went up to him to see what he was really trying to do. Actually, somehow his laptop screen had broken down, so he had plugged in a desktop monitor to a laptop and was working.

I had never seen a broken screen like that. So I asked him to take a picture of it and send me. Well here they are!! The Broken laptop and the desktop images. Fascinating, wat say you??

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Free ASP.NET Hosting!!

I came across a site a month back or so which had free ASP.NET 2.0 hosting for 100 MB. WOW! I thought. I immediately registered to see what exactly were they offering. Upon my registration I was told that i could begin hosting only after 24 hours. I could not understand the reason they had given, something about many users registering and not using the service.

Well, I had completely forgotten about the whole thing. But today I was thinking of starting my own personal website. I knew that had a lot of sample starter kits with a personal site being one of them. I thought I might just download the starter kit and upload it to the free hosting service I had registered for. So I searched my mail as I had no clue where I had registered. Finally, I logged into the site and chose the appropriate things to get started. But nothing was appearing for the site manager, the place where the web-master can upload files etc. Stumped I noticed a few lines at the bottom which said that i had to contribute 5 answers or post a few genuine articles on to the community section of the site!!

Now, I appreciate the gesture that the people who have started the service are giving. But Please DO NOT call this FREE hosting. A day has just 24 hours. How a person utilizes his/her time decides how much he/she may earn. Wasting a valuable resource as your time and patience is a cost, though not in terms of dollars, but still it does get you peeved!

The UI for the forum and articles is so obsolete that you dont feel like staying on the site. And with all the Google ads over shadowing the main content of the site, I wonder what the real intentions of the service providers are. In my view, this could be a way to fool people to return to their site, increasing the number of hits and earning them revenue while the user is exasperated and exhausted by the harrowing experience.

I have surrendered and am not going to waste any more time trying for free hosting. This time around the w3schools punch line doesnt hold good - "The best things in life are free" If you have the patience you are free to try it out here.

All the best!!

Do you Flock?

Are you a Web 2.0 Freak? Do you visit Flickr quite often? Can't get enough of facebook? If the answer to the above is yes then you have to try out Flock. What is Flock? Well if you are asking me that then surely you are not aware of the new sleek Web Browser based on Mozilla engine that has caught on with people. It is said to be a social browser.

I do not use facebook that often but just a trial run of the browser and you see that surfing with flock is a totally new experience. But let me not waste your time anymore. Go ahead! Download and try it out yourself! You can find the link on the side.

Or you can download it from here. Enjoy!!

In Theory & In Practise

During my engineering studies, I had to undergo three weeks of Industrial Training. The purpose of this training was to gain insight on how the things that we were studying in college were actually being used in the Industry. The training had different meaning for different people. For some it was an opportunity to go to places they hadn't been to before, like my friends from Mechanical who spent their winter of 2004 in Haridwar visiting the BHEL facility, trying a hand at photography and God knows what. For some it meant to visit a friend's home, a friend who thanks to his/her contacts had arranged the Industrial Training for you. For some, it was a time to laze out at home as usual, getting the  "Successfully Completed Training" certificate from the company without really going even one single day and then overjoyed on getting an "A" for three weeks of partying with friends. For me, it was about getting up early in Winter, catching a bus to visit facilities 40-50 miles from my home; braving the cold, the dust of coal and then the response of the clerk at the facility to somehow learn how the electrical equipments I had studied about were being applied in the Coal Mining Industry. I managed a "B" for the 1 credit that the training carried even though the lecturer who took my viva was convinced that I had actually been to those facilities and seen things in the report that I had written . (FYI: Many reports submitted were merely ones that people got from the companies imparting the training)

Anyway, for me the training was a learning experience. I realized that theoretical knowledge has to be supplemented by practical knowledge and vice versa. While the foreman who was telling me knew a hell lot about the the faults that occur and what they do to repair, he was unable to answer some questions. Reading my book back home I found out the answer to some of the questions I had. I realized that being an engineer you need both practical as well as theoretical knowledge.

 I also learnt that getting things done is more about managing people than anything else.  But the reason why I have talked about the training is to emphasize on theoretical as well as practical learning.

Now as the first phase of the web app I was building is nearing to a close, I was reminiscing on what have I learnt so far. I have gained confidence in understanding requirements and some level of confidence on how to code to get those requirements done. But most of my coding has involved Googling a particular problem and finding out a solution or trying out a few things. But after building a complete Web App I am still not confident of how much I know about Web Development using ASP.NET. Just the other day I was going through a ASP.NET book and realized that I have managed to learn how to do things. But not what was going on behind the scenes. I was just like the foreman knowing what to do, not knowing why we are doing it.

This approach will never allow me grow and be competitive. So I decided to refresh the concepts from the books once again. If you are not reading to understand the underlying concepts, change your approach or stagnate!!

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Working on a Sunday - Why??

Normally, I spend my Sundays reading The Sunday Times or sleeping or cooking ( that is a recent addition). But today I am in the office!! What the hell am I doing here? Well, I have been thinking for sometime to spend some extra time on the Web Application I am working on add some spice to it. Something which will earn me some bonus points. I have been thinking of this for the past 3-4 weeks now, but none of the weekends saw me coming to office. After a tiring 5 day week, there has to be some real motivation for you to get up and get going.
That motivation was not there the past few weeks.

So what has motivated  me this weekend to get me up and running? Many might say that with the end of the year performance review going on, I want to score some bonus points. After all, most of us have very short memory. I would not say that the review is not in my mind. It is, indeed. But had that been such a motivating factor, I would have done quite a lot by now to really make a hot delicious curry out of my Web App. Alas! That is not the case.

There is another motivating factor, a force so strong that has pulled me out of my sleep and brought me to my office driving 14 kms in the sun. What is this force? Well, it is ASP.NET AJAX!!

On Friday, I AJAX enabled my web app and went through the sample website that is present along with the AJAX Toolkit. WoW! The things that AJAX can do. You see them everyday in new Web 2.0 sites and wonder how was this achieved. With ASP.NET AJAX, I got a glimpse of how I can achieve such functionality. So, on Friday I decided that I would definitely be spending some time this weekend to see how I can apply the spices of ASP.NET AJAX and make my web app curry that extra spicy and delicious.

So here I am at the office. While the demo videos I downloaded and saw seem to be very simple, I have been unable to use any Controls from the toolkit till now. They just dont seem to be working. Only the Update panel and Script Manager have been functioning perfectly, but none of the controls from the toolkit.

Whatever the case may be, ASP.NET AJAX is definitely the way forward. So expect a few posts on that in the coming weeks.

And yeah, Blogger on the Move really Rocks!!


Friday, March 7, 2008

Blogger on the Move - Posting by Email

Well, this has been on my mind for some time now. Posting by email!! There is nothing much to this post except for the fact that it is a test. However, as far as development is concerned I have been a bit off lately about posting anything. I have become pretty inactive on forum considering that I aggregated a 100 points within a fortnight.

The exciting bit is that I explored a bit of ASP.NET AJAX and I think I will be involved with it a lot more in the coming days. Lets see. Meanwhile hopefully with email posting enabled you will see a lot more posts now.

Till the next post!

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Making the World a Better Place - The Microsoft Way

In my previous post I had talked about Microsoft and how it has had to bow down to open source and change some of its strategies. So how does this impact you and me and the world in general? Some people may argue with the Microsoft way of doing things. As far as the Web is concerned I tend to agree with them. Google has outwitted Microsoft on the web by leaps and bounds. But come to the desktop and Windows is THE operating system used worldwide. Using Windows is so easy that anybody can learn it! That is why it is so popular. Another thing which I have liked about Microsoft is Visual Studio and the way they want developers to to develop applications. Many Java people would tend to disagree with that, but frankly speaking, I was tired of setting the environment and classpath and whatever you do to get a simple "Hello World" program to run.

Java is a beautiful language to learn. I have touched Java, and perhaps that is the reason why I like C#(which is a rip off from Java). But I never could end up programming in Java. Its not that I did not try, but I just wasnt able to acquaint myself with the IDE or the language. Probably, I needed some good company to learn Java.

Anyway, I find Microsoft tools easy and familiar to use. Many of the things in .NET framework are taken care of and you dont have to worry about them. Of course, you may curse Microsooft when you are stuck in a runtime exception and not knowing if the fault is in your code or Microsoft generated code!

But the crux of the matter is, for guys like me who are beginning web development, if you dont keep things simple, we would end up studying finance!!When you have an idea which can change the way the world is today, implementing that idea should be as easy and simple as possible. I believe Microsoft does this and hence enables hundreds of dreamers like me to pursue and try ideas which may destroy the world! Just imagine right at this moment, a hundred people are thinking/working on an idea which may change the world, fine tuning the idea and not worrying about how to do it.

These ideas may make the World a better place - and Microsoft IMO is helping them immensely.

Microsoft vs Open Source - Strike 2!!

I wasn't really aware about the open source hoopla till my first year in college when thanks to my dear friends Shashank Shekhar and Darshan Santani, I heard about Linux. It was the first time that I had heard of an operating system other than Windows. Well, I have come a long way since then. I even gave a seminar on Linux to educate and spread awareness amongst my classmates about the Open Source and Free Software Movement. Though I tried at times to learn Linux I never really could get over using Windows.

Anyway, I have always liked people who love Linux. They remind you of the Freedom Fighters of India, fighting for Independence through non-violent means; the 60's and 70's generation of US fighting for world peace and an end to the Vietnam War through Rock Music. Those kind of people in this decade and the previous ones have been fighting against the Microsoft View of software. It has been a long and hard battle between the 2, but clearly we see a strong movement in Open Source and Free Software which has gained momentum which has sent alarm bells ringing in Redmond. Read this and you will know how the movement has forced Microsoft to change its viewpoint.

You must be wondering why I called this post as Strike 2!! Well, in my previous post I had mentioned how the Express Editions of Microsoft tools were really a response to the growing popularity of Open Source and Free Software Development packages. That in my view was Strike 1 for Microsoft! Recently, Microsoft announced that it is going to provide students with its Professional Development tools for free. Also, it is going to share details of some of its technology with open source developers. This for me has been Strike 2!

I am not a Microsoft hater like some people. I just tend to disagree with some of their moves at times. I am just happy that more people will be able to contribute to innovation using Microsoft tools!