Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Live from Educause

I'm writing this from Dallas, TX, host city of Educause 2006. I've been to many Educause shows over the past 10 years or so. This one is typical of them. Most of the action happens in the exhibitors hall. So many of the people I've come to know over the years come to this show. It's a bit like a class reunion. I think it's one reason why people continue to come every year -- it's a place to meet friends and colleagues.

Needless to say, the BlackBoard patent was a bit topic of debate. BB held a "Town Meeting", which I managed to miss. There were a lot of jokes made, impassionated hallway conversations, and chair-top pundits all willing to share their veiw. I have to believe that BB is getting a better understanding of the reaction this has caused in higher education. I also believe that it's not too late for them to salvage this situation. Time will tell.

As always, I wander around the show floor looking for cool things, new ideas, heck even slick marketing. The swag has come down in quality in recenty years, so I don't bother much. Glowing yo-yo's seem to be prevalent this year. Ho-hum.

Apple had a very nice booth. Josh Holtzman was giving Sakai demo's there. Josh is a great spokesman for Sakai and it was nice to see him at Educause helping to evangelize Sakai (or was it Apple?). I got a closer look at Final Cut Pro. Apple is now claiming a larger marketshare than Avid. Given Avid's very solid market position for many years now, I have to wonder how Apple defines the market. Still, there is no denying that Final Cut Pro is indeed a killer app for the Mac. One very slick application.

Some may know that I consult to Unicon on a part time basis. Unicon was showing a preliminary integration between uPortal and Sakai. Essentially, uPortal and Sakai have single sign-on via CAS. Unicon wrote a small portlet that shows the active user's Sakai sites. A site can be selected launching Sakai. Kinda cool, but needs more work, which I discussed with John Lewis of Unicon. This is just a small example of how uPortal and Sakai are finally coming together.

The keynote speaker was Ray Kurzwiel, founder of many companies and author of "The Age of Spiritual Machines" and "The Singularity is Now". Ray spoke at length about exponential growth in technology and biology, how it relates to where we are now, and where it will likely lead in the future. He demonstated a hand-held reading machine that would enable a blind person to read signs on the wall, a restaraunt menu, or a book. Very slick. Many people have tried to pick holes in Kurzwiel's analysis, but I find it very compelling, having lived through the early days of electronics, and the rise of the information age. His predictions can be outrageous, but his track record is good, looking back over the 20 years I've been following his work. Much of it is hopeful, and all of it interesting.

- Mark

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

What will Sakai do about Presentation Technology?

This was written in response to Chuck's annoucement about the JSR-301 Call for Participation. I've been struggling with JSF for over two years now. While it has some very positive aspects to it, it has a large learning curve and some serious internal problems, especially in the Sun Reference Implementation.

My own work on JSF over the past six months has caused me to shift towards the MyFaces implementation of JSF than the Sun reference model. Clearly there is a LOT more development activity going on here (in Apache) than at Sun. Personally, I'd recommend that we drop the Sun RI and just go with MyFaces. There is no downside, except for some code migration.

Presentation technology continues to be a problem for Sakai, IMO. While I'll be exploring the alternatives in a presentation at the upcoming conference, I don't really have a strong recommendation at this time. Frankly, JSF is a barrier to building tools for Sakai. Yeah, there are alternatives that are starting to emerge, including non-Java ones. For serious and major tools, however, we are still encouraging JSF (is that still true?).

If we are NOT encouraging JSF, then we'll continue to see a proliferation of UI technologies. Already we're seeing Sakai tools written using Struts, JSP, and RSF, not to mention pure servlets. While this flexibility does encourage people to "use what they know", in the long term it's gonna hurt us in (lack of) consistency in user experience. Further, the effort we put into developing cool JSF gadgets won't help a bit to someone writing a servlet.

Rather than point at a particular technology (RSF!!!) and declaring it to be the next great thing, I'd like to explore how we will decide this problem. Comparing technologies is a start, but do we REALLY understand what our requirements are in a UI system? Where do we want this to take us? Can we make a choice now that will hold up for the next 2-4 years? How much of the problem is social in nature (lack of training, documentation, best practices, and standards)?

- Mark