Friday, January 27, 2006

The X Factor

Microsoft is planning a 2006 upgrade to its two flagship products. Windows XP will evolve into Windows Vista and Office 2003 will morph into Office 12. Yesterday, I had the opportunity to attend a Microsoft special preview of both products. My conclusion: there is one open-source skill that all Web developers should add to their resume this year based on Microsoft's migration strategy.

Both products have changed in substantial ways. However, the most significant change affecting data that begins life as an Office document (Word, Excel, and PowerPoint) and migrates to the Web will be evident to end users only by the file extensions as follows:
  • Word (.doc becomes .docx)
  • Excel (.xls becomes .xlsx)
  • PowerPoint (.ppt becomes .pptx)

This X factor file format notation is consistent with the recent upgrade of ASP classic (.asp) to ASP.NET (.aspx).

So, why the "x"? Quite simply, all Office documents in the future will be stored as XML files!

If Bill Gates has decided to bet the future of his cash cow Office franchise on Open XML Formats, then it would make sense for developers to learn more about XML data. If HTML represents a core technology during the first decade of Web design and development, then XML appears to be staking its claim to being a core technology for the second decade. Whether you are a Microsoft zealot or detractor, every designer and developer should consider adding XML to their skill set as the Web matures from infancy to adolescence.

To learn more about Microsoft's commitment to XML, access the Office 12 Website and a Microsoft product manager's blog that focuses on Office and XML. You can continue your quest for knowledge at Microsoft's XML Developer Center to learn more about "the language of information interchange."

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Boston Wi-Fi Initiative

Global Wi-Fi hotspots have surpassed the 100,000 mark according to a press release issued by JiWire. Many of these hotspots are independent, proprietary and uncoordinated.

Meanwhile, cities around the United States are fashioning a coordinated effort to help its citizens become more productive in our increasingly mobile society. A few major cities that have recently announced plans for citywide Internet access include
San Francisco and Philadelphia.

These plans center around providing free or low-cost Internet access via
Wi-Fi. Citizens with a wireless-enabled computer can access the Internet via a hotspot.

What about Beantown? Well, the little-advertised
Boston Main Streets Wi-Fi Initiative is up and running and delivering FREE Wi-Fi Internet access to the following four communities:

The Boston Main Street Wi-Fi Initiative website explains how to access FREE Internet in these communities.

Unfortunately, no information is available detailing the scope of the rollout to other communities or the timeframe for completion. Hopefully, it won't take as long as The Big Dig.

In the meantime several search engines are available to help you find a hotspot in a specific location. A few of these services include the following:

In addition, eating establishments such as Panera Bread (30 locations in Massachusetts) offers FREE Wi-Fi access. So, now there is no excuse for not being productive on your lunch hour!

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Web Applications for Dummies

As discussed in the November 10 issue, Microsoft "Sea Change", the shift to Internet-based software and services has begun and Web developers with the right skills should benefit from this "sea change."

Enter a new competitor: This company created one of the most successful Web applications -- software programs that are not installed on your desktop, but rather, are available for use on the Internet. Their customer relationship management (CRM) Web application competes with software products at a fraction of the cost. Typically Web applications like these are rented for a monthly fee, as opposed to purchased for a one-time price. has officially launched
AppExchange, its Website for providing a common access point and development platform for many different kinds of Web applications. The company's goal is to become an on-demand business application development platform -- one that developers think of first for building applications.

One popular software program has already been transformed into a Web application -- Adobe's
Acrobat for creating pdf files. While this application requires a subscription fee to use, here are four promising applications that can be used for FREE:

You can give these and many other Web applications a "test drive" at the AppExchange Website before deciding to activate the application.

Want to learn more about Web applications? Simply download a white paper (pdf). Better yet, would love to have you develop your own Web applications and make them available on AppExchange. They have even created's AppExchange for Dummies to guide you through the process. A FREE copy will be mailed to you! All you have do is register and in no time you can enter the world of Web application development.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Best Companies to Work For

FORTUNE is out with its annual list of 100 Best Companies to Work For. Six of those companies are either headquartered in Massachusetts or have a large office in the state. They are as follows:

If your goal in 2006 is to change employers, why not work for the best? A more comprehensive listing of Best Places to Work is available from the Boston Business Journal. Three of the employers -- Brigham McCutchen, Bright Horizons, and Genzyme -- appear on both lists.

A few of the benefits that elevate an employer to Best Company status include the following:

  • Health care
  • Child care
  • Work-life balance
  • Telecommuting
  • Sabbaticals
  • Unusual perks
The best way for worker to be attractive to a Best Company is to set goals to become a Best Worker at your current company. Here are three things you can do to improve your employment prospects in 2006:
  • Identify one way in which you add value for your current company -- either by generating revenue or reducing expenses -- and then document your performance.
  • Issue a press release about a recent award you've won for your superior performance -- every one of the six Best Companies have posted press releases about their FORTUNE award.
  • If you don't have a personal Website to post your press release, build one!
When you are ready to begin contacting companies, the Web Apprentices Career Center stands ready to help with your efforts.

Friday, January 06, 2006

Microsoft's Major Competitor

Bill Gates went on record this week when asked which competitor he is most concerned about. His response:

"The biggest company in the computer industry, by far, is IBM. They have the (sic) four times the employees that I have, way more revenues than I have. IBM has always been our biggest competitor. The press just doesn't like to write about IBM."

What are the implications of a Microsoft vs. IBM battle for 2006 and beyond? And what does this mean for Web developers?

The Web continues to expand and the tool kit that Web developers need to be proficient in keeps growing with it. Case in point, e-commerce continues to outpace economic growth in the United States. This Holiday season witnessed a
25% increase in Internet sales vs. the previous year. And the Top 400 Retail Websites are not the only beneficiaries of this Web development trend. As we saw in Outlook 2006, Part 2, small and medium-size business (SMB) leaders want to use their Website to market their products, paying particular attention to sales leads and online sales.

Web developers who can help SMB leaders grow their revenues should do well in 2006. Both Microsoft and IBM have tools available to help these businesses. We've read about Microsoft .NET tools for Web developers. But what does IBM offer Web developers in terms of tools and training?

IBM has made a major commitment to open source standards and
supports PHP as their primary Web development language. Here are just two FREE online tutorials available at the IBM Website:

In addition, as the Web development arms race between Microsoft and IBM continues we will begin to hear more about emerging techniques such as Ajax & Atlas. If you'd like to position your skill set near the front of this digital arms race you might want to consider learning more about these techniques. And IBM wants to help you. On Tuesday, February 7 at 6:30 pm IBM's Cambridge office will host a seminar with the following somewhat cryptic title:
The seminar is FREE and is being coordinated by the Boston PHP Users Group. Registration is required.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

IT Recession -- 2007

The next IT recession is scheduled to begin in 2007. Over the following three years the job market for IT specialists will shrink by 40 percent.

Forrester Research and the Information Technology Association of America (ITAA) announced its inaugural US Tech Sector Index in December. The new quarterly benchmark is based on 11 measures of IT demand, supply, and the strength of US-based IT providers. Findings reveal both moderate increases and declines in various indicators over the coming year. A mild downturn is expected in 2007 followed by the next wave of tech innovation and heavy IT investment starting in 2008.

According to separate research conducted by Gartner, Inc., the job market for IT specialists will shrink 40 percent by 2010.

This does not mean the demand for tech skills will decline. It simply means the nature of tech work will change. IT "versatilists" will emerge replacing IT "specialists." An IT "versatilist" will be charged with fueling business value and will gain experience through multidisciplinary assignments.

"Today's IT specialists must focus on a rapid and intentional expansion from technical specialization to business competence in order to position themselves as tomorrow's business contributors," according to a Gartner representative.

This shift in work competencies is just one of six trends presented as part of a Gartner Special Report entitled "
Gartner's Top Predictions for 2006 and Beyond."

According to Gartner the IT profession will split into four domains of expertise over the remainder of this decade:

  • technology infrastructure and services
  • information design and management
  • process design and management
  • relationship and sourcing management

For a complete description of these four areas of practice access a recent Gartner press release.

Web developers should set specific goals in the first half of 2006 to improve in the following three areas:

  • upgrading technical skills
  • expending contacts within the industry
  • seeking out opportunities to develop business-specific skills that affect the bottom line
The downturn is a year away. Plan now for next year's recession and position yourself for the opportunities that await beyond.