Upfront - 5

Conferences around the world; a lost cell phone; a peek into labs; virtual security crisis.

Around the World in 10 Days

I've been on a whirlwind tour the past two weeks.

Soon after getting home from London, where I attended the Symbian Smartphone Show, I headed for Montreal for the Object-Oriented Programming, Systems and Languages conference, also known as OOPSLA. Montreal was great, and OOPSLA even better. I got to try out my French and fared pretty well. But, better yet, I got to attend some really cool talks given by some of the best in the business.

Jim Hugunin, an architect on Microsoft's Dynamic Language Runtime team, gave a great talk about running dynamic languages on the Microsoft Common Language Runtime. And members of the Second Life development team spoke about how they plan to enhance their platform to better empower developers.

The highlight of the event, though, was a panel with several "fathers" of programming languages, including Microsoft's Anders Hejlsberg, the creator of C#, and Sun Microsystems' James Gosling, the creator of Java.

It seemed many people expected fireworks between Hejlsberg and Gosling because Microsoft and Sun compete for developer mind share at the platform level, but they got along well on the panel and agreed with each other on most every point.

I also took a trip up the "Volta" with Microsoft's Erik Meijer. Meijer spoke at OOPSLA about his Volta project, an effort to "democratize" development for the cloud. He said Volta will make application development for the Web as easy as Visual Basic made things for folks developing Windows applications. The project is named after the Italian physicist Alessandro Volta, who invented the electric battery.

After OOPSLA, I headed to Redmond, Wash., for Microsoft's SOA (service-oriented architecture) conference. Upon arrival, I was quickly detoured to "Oslo," Microsoft's sweeping SOA strategy that encompasses modeling technology.

Microsoft said that as part of the multiyear Oslo effort, it plans to make modeling a capability for the masses instead of what it is now-an arena in which only a small number of upper-echelon developers can play.

The company has asked Donald Ferguson, a Microsoft distinguished engineer and former fellow at IBM (where he was known as the "father of WebSphere") to help with this effort.

Ferguson said people continue to ask him why he left IBM. He said it was one of the hardest things he has ever done-adding that there have been more than 200 IBM fellows and that only about five have ever left the company. But he said he believed his vision for taking modeling to the masses and changing the way people work with the Internet could just be better accomplished at Microsoft.

After the Oslo detour, I met with several folks on Microsoft's campus. I was reminded it was Halloween when I saw some people dressed up in costume. I saw a Kid Rock look-alike, a lady dressed as a pi??ata, several pirates and a Darth Vader light saber-and these were the adults!

There were also throngs of Microsofties who brought their children to campus that afternoon for trick-or-treating. Busy-bee workers set up bowls of candy on tables outside their offices so kids could come by and grab handfuls and adults could keep toiling away at their code (or take their own children around).

I have to admit I nipped a tiny Snickers bar for myself.

-Darryl K. Taft

Little Phone Lost

After arriving home one recent night, I felt for my cell phone-a Treo 650 that I've had since 2005-and found only an empty holster.

Rats.

I immediately flashed back to when I probably lost it. I was sitting on the floor of the BART train because I wanted to talk with a friend. You sat on the floor of a public train, you ask? You see, there weren't enough seats, and, well, in San Francisco, it's not that uncommon to see middle-age professionals sitting on the carpeted floor of the train. My phone holster doesn't have a flap or cover, and sitting or crouching has caused my phone to fall out of the case a few times in the past.

I didn't panic at first because I make a habit of regularly backing up my phone data-all my data was safe and sound in my home computer.

But then a second wave of realization struck me, and I was afraid-very afraid. All the personal data on my Treo-more than 700 personal and business contacts-was floating around on a BART train.

Rats!

Information about my family and friends, all my appointments for the last two years and for several months into the future, flight confirmation numbers, doctor appointments, birthdays, and all sorts of other private information could now be in the hands of some nefarious person.

Rats, rats, rats!

I started to think positively: Maybe my friend had noticed the phone on the floor of the train. Maybe some nice suburban commuter had turned the phone in to the station agent. Maybe I would get it back-BART has a pretty good lost-and-found system, after all.

Or maybe it was in the hands of someone who is snoopy, nosy and mean-spirited. Who knows?

I called my wireless carrier from a land line and deactivated service. I thought about all the information about my family that I had possibly put in the hands of a stranger. Why hadn't I used a power-on password to protect my private data? I solemnly promised to use a password on my new phone. Then I thought of more pleasant things, such as what kind of new phone I should get.

But then came the dawn of a new day, and there, on my desk at work, was my Treo.

I almost wept.

Once I got a hold of myself, I assigned a power-on password to my phone. I updated the owner information on the device so it didn't include my home address-no need to make identity theft easy.

I also committed to a $100 reward for return of the phone: With a Sharpie, I wrote "Reward offered" on the phone case and phone battery, along with my work phone number as a contact.

Finally, I've decided that the days each year that we switch to and from daylight-saving time will not only be when I check my smoke detector batteries but also when I review my personal disaster recovery plan, including when and how I back up and protect the most important device in my life: my cell phone.

Oh, and I'm getting a new cell-phone holster-with a clasp.

-Cameron Sturdevant

I Got the Music in Me

One of the cool things about covering this industry is talking with people in the various research labs run by vendors.

Usually, by the time we talk with a company about an emerging technology, it's been tested, retested, productized, dressed up by the marketing folks and pitched by executives schooled in the art of staying on message. These products might very well be worthwhile, good advancements in the space they're designed for, a step ahead of the competition. But they're also prepackaged, a bit sanitized.

But getting a peek into what the labs people are working on—those projects that are a long way off from getting productized—can be a lot of fun. It's kind of like getting a look at the funky prototype cars that the big automakers are working on—the end products will not look anything like those prototypes, though they will have some of their features.

So it was the other day, when Sun invited journalists and analysts to its Burlington, Mass., campus to look at some of the projects it's working on. Sun officials showed off projects around a new programming language, transactional memory and massive multiplayer online games (Project Darkstar). All interesting stuff.

That said, the highlight for me was Project Search Inside the Music, technology aimed at getting a handle on the music that's finding its way online. "The Web is just going to be filled with billions of tracks, and millions more every week," said Paul Lamere, the Sun Labs principal who is heading the project.

How is anyone supposed to sort through all that music and find what they want? That's what I want to know. I've got more than 250 CDs already, and I'm constantly going onto the Web to find more music. Most radio stations play mainstream stuff, so unless you have a station like we have around here—WMVY, in Martha's Vineyard, Mass.—that plays lesser-known artists, there are few ways you're going to hear music from bands like The Subdudes or Entrain.

Figuring that out is what this project is all about. The key, Lamere said, is in the search. Most searches, such as Amazon.com's, group recommendations together based on what people buy—because Bill and Mary buy one CD, the others they buy might be similar. That makes little sense. I've bought a Willie Nelson and an Everclear CD at the same time. Short of both having guitars in the songs, there's not much similarity.

Lamere's software recommends music based on similar genres or musical styles. Punch "Led Zeppelin" into the search box, and you get a description of the band's music ("blues rock," "guitar rock" and so forth) and then a list of other bands that have similar descriptions.

Even better, there is a way to see your songs. Switch to that view, and what you see is a bunch of dots of various colors floating in 3-D fashion against a black background. Each color represents a different genre—rock, classical, rap, C&W. Click on a dot, and you can hear the song and see an image of the CD cover art. Through this, you can easily set up playlists by clicking from one song to the other. The possibilities are endless.

As a product, Lamere and others talked about what such a service could do for telecoms as they pack more features onto their mobile devices. But I think Illuminata analyst Gordon Haff said it best when, at the end of the 20-minute presentation, he declared, "Paul's been showing us this for a couple of years. I want to get it onto my computer."

—Jeffrey Burt

Virtual Security Crisis?

At Ziff Davis Enterprise's recent Virtualization Summit in New York, a group of IT management types gathered to hear a mix of vendor and editorial voices speak on the theme of "Creating the Virtual Enterprise."

During a wrap-up panel discussion in which I took part, the issue of lax security among virtual server installations came up: Are enterprises so enamored of virtualization's magical consolidation and deployment benefits that they're tossing out their security-best-practices playbooks?

According to security vendors and consultants in attendance, the problem of IT administrators dazzled into carelessness by virtualization is a real one—and one that, naturally, calls for security-focused product and services add-ons.

Speaking from the virtualization end of the vendor chorus, XenSource CTO Simon Crosby suggested that such alarm was overblown and might reflect a measure of FUD-spreading.

As one of the editorial voices in attendance, I acknowledged that ensuring proper server security is no simple matter—be it in the virtual or the physical realm. However, if the introduction of a virtual platform for running servers really does expose holes in your security and management processes, then your processes—and the personnel charged with developing, executing and maintaining them—weren't solid to begin with.

—Jason Brooks