An Issue with Cloud Computing

The world is heading toward cloud computing at a frantic pace. However, the question is whether cloud computing is ready for the world to rely on it. I keep hearing about major outages of line of business applications. For example, Visual Studio Online recently suffered a major outage. If you’re a developer, the last thing you want to hear is that you can’t access the application you use to create new applications. Just think about the implications about such a scenario for a while and all kinds of negative images come to mind.

What really gets to me is that Microsoft did manage to get Visual Studio Online fixed in about five hours and it identified a potential source for the problem, but it still doesn’t know the cause. Not knowing the cause means that the problem can easily happen again. The loss of income to companies that rely on Visual Studio Online could be huge.

However, the basic problems with cloud computing aren’t just limited to application availability. The biggest problem is saving data to the cloud in the first place. Application development is tricky at best. You absolutely don’t want to give your trade secrets away to other companies and losing data is too terrible to even consider. There is also the connection to consider—whether your users will be slowed down by inefficient communications. Cloud-based applications can also change at a moment’s notice and it’s even possible that a company could simply orphan the product, making it completely unavailable. Losing access to your application in the middle of a development cycle would mean starting from scratch—can your organization really afford it?

Don’t get me wrong. Online computing has a lot of advantages and there are times when using a cloud application works just fine. In fact, I use a cloud application to write my blog each week. However, I also save a copy of the posts to local storage because I simply don’t trust anyone else to make my backups for me. One of my non-business e-mails is also a cloud application. I don’t make a copy of the data in this case because losing it wouldn’t cause any hardship. The point is that I think through the ramifications of using cloud computing carefully and make informed choices—something every organization needs to do.

Will cloud computing ever be ready for prime time? I’ve had a number of readers ask that question. I’m sure that cloud computing will continue to improve. There may come a time when you can trust it enough to use for line of business applications. However, with the current state of things, I’d be sure that I have local backups of my essential data and that the cloud application isn’t the only resource at my disposal. Your business simply has too much riding on the applications you use to have to worry about whether the application will even be available then next time you need it.

I’m sure that some people will write to let me know that their cloud application has never failed them, to which I would add, “yet”. Desktop applications fail too, but with a desktop application, you’re in control. You have a copy of the software locally and you don’t have to worry about the software becoming unavailable or being changed at precisely the wrong time (adding code breaking functionality). Let me know your view of cloud computing at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Updating Your Copy of Java

It’s almost never a good idea to keep really old versions of software on your system that provide some sort of security or Internet access functionality. One of the worst technologies in this regard is Java. It seems like everyone wants to pick on every security flaw found in Java, probably because the language is so incredibly popular and it’s available on just about every platform on the planet. There have been all sorts of attempts by vendors to remove Java because it’s perceived as such a problem. Microsoft is now trying to take some action regarding Java. You can read the full details in Microsoft to block outdated Java versions in Internet Explorer on ZDNet. However, the short version is that if you’ve been holding off updating your copy of Java, you can’t wait much longer and expect it to continue working.

Of course, this news brings me to my books. A number of my books either discuss Java directly or rely on Java in some other way that depends on Internet Explorer support. For example, when working with Java eLearning Kit for Dummies, you need to use Java and if you’re working on the Windows platform, it’s likely that you’re using Internet Explorer. If you’ve also been limping along with that really outdated copy of Java, the examples in the book may not work after Tuesday (August 12). Microsoft has a way of slipping in updates at times in ways that people really don’t catch until it’s too late.

Mind you, I think this is a good update because old software is just too easy exploit by those nefarious individuals trying to steal your credit information and turn your computer into a zombie. Of course, updates can create havoc with book examples as well. If you do perform an update and find that you’re having a problem with an example that used to work in books that rely on Java, please be sure to let me know about it at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com. I want to ensure your book examples continue to run even after the much needed update.

 

Guessing At What Your User Wants Doesn’t Work

Web-based applications seem determined to embrace a form of automation that really doesn’t make a lot of sense and it’s causing more than a little woe for end users. Personalization, the act of guessing what a user wants based on previous activity, is a serious problem. At one level, personalization is actually costing vendors sales. For example, because of my previous searches on Amazon, I couldn’t find a product I really wanted. Amazon kept suggesting items I didn’t want or need. I ended up buying the product on another site and only later found I could purchase it on Amazon for less money. (Not to pick on Amazon too much, I have the same sorts of problems with other sites such as Google.)

Adding personalization to an application is supposed to help a user find items of interest, but we often need to search for something other than the usual item or may not even know what we want. In these situations, personalization actually gets in the way. A recent article, “Personalization is collapsing the Web” expresses the idea clearly by pointing out that people are sometimes ill-informed about current issues because personalization hides relevant news from view. The problem is so prevalent that it now has a name, the filter bubble, as described in “Content Personalization: How Much Is Too Much?” Users can’t find the information they need and vendors are losing sales due to the filter bubble created by various search engine vendors such as Microsoft (in Bing).

In order to provide personalization, sites must track your every move. It isn’t just the National Security Agency (NSA) that snoops on you, but just about everyone else on the Web as well. To some extent, any suggestion that you have any privacy on the Web is simply unrealistic. However, there comes a point at which the snooping, categorization, and misinformed suggestions get to the point of ridiculous and savvy users start searching for alternatives. One such alternative espoused by writers such as John Dvorak is DuckDuckGo. At least it doesn’t track your every move or provide you with suggestions that you don’t need. The prying can even take odd turns, such as the woman who was arrested for researching a pressure cooker on Google.

Guessing, even if the guessing is informed by previous activity, usually won’t work for an application. In fact, it’s probably a bad practice for a lot of reasons. Here are the things that you should consider when thinking about adding personalization to your application.

 

  • Guesses are usually wrong because few personalization engines can actually understand user needs successfully.
  • Personalization can cost an organization money by hiding products, services, or information that a user really needs.
  • Wrongful suggestions reduce the confidence the user has in the application.
  • Tracking the user makes the user feel spied upon.
  • Time and resources required to track a user and offer personalized suggestions could be better spent by making the application faster, more reliable, and more secure.


Odd as it might seen, I have never yet encountered a situation where personalization was an aid to anything other than making me leave the site for a location that isn’t personalized. When viewing a news site, it’s better to see the top stories of the day and drill down into the less sensational stories as needed. In most cases, what I really need is a good search engine that helps me find what I want, once I know what it is. Let me know your thoughts about personalization at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.