Short Cuts – Issue 60

by Paul Stephens

Paul Stephens takes a sideways look at the world of IT.

HardCopy Issue: 60 | Published: September 1, 2013 Design

High on Short Cuts’ list of Web Pages We Never Expected To Find is the one headed ‘Take a Tour Inside Comic Director’, about a toolset for authoring digital comic strips, which recently popped up not on the Web site of a crowd-funded West Coast start-up, but in the far more august surroundings of In fact Comic Director turns out to be just part of a major thrust by Intel into online cross-platform HTML5 development tools. The company has bought Director from Ratio Interactive, plus the jqMobi framework and XDK IDE from appMobi, and is bundling them as the Intel HTML5 Development Environment, a free write-once, deploy-many platform targeting everything from a desktop to an iPod Touch. Coming from a firm whose developer tools have until now tended towards the massive parallelism end of the market, this is a bit like BBC2’s Newsnight suddenly running a segment in which Tom Jones and sit in swivel chairs auditioning hopeful vocalists. On the other hand, Intel is the outfit that built wireless networking into its chipsets and then acquired an anti-virus company named after a Guatemalan jungle fugitive, so pretty much anything probably goes once the ‘Brainstorming – do not disturb’ sign goes up on the boardroom door.

Intel comic director screenshot

Well-established chip builder Intel makes its entry into the, er, comic strip authoring market.

The smart money says that Intel is hoping to use HTML5 as an abstraction layer so that when it finally launches an ARM-bashing, battery-friendly mobile processor everyone’s apps will instantly run on it, unlike that nasty processor-specific native code that people like Embarcadero are so keen on. Here at Short Cuts we have a simpler explanation – Intel just likes doing random stuff. Only time will tell, as it will on the subject of how Tizen, Intel’s Linux/Webkit mobile OS joint venture with Samsung (see ‘random stuff’, above) will fit into its HTML5 tools universe.

So excited were we by the prospect of limitless HTML5 development that we broke the rule of a lifetime and Actually Installed The Software. Sad to say though, our chair remained firmly un-swivelled. The Java-based XDK runs only in Google Chrome, has a UI so dark it makes JetBrains’ ‘Darcula’ IDE theme look like Blackpool illuminations, and was generally so baffling that it made our heads hurt and Quantum Mechanics seem obvious – all in all, a fairly typical cross-platform mobile app development tool. Perhaps Intel can get some people in from the Parallel Studio team to tidy it up.

Intel XDK screenshot

Intel’s XDK gives JetBrains’ ‘Darcula’ UI theme a run for its money.

Popularity contest

Is Intel setting a trend by embracing a more populist approach? Yes, if these new products from other major vendors are anything to go by: Oracle Cheap and Cheerful. A low-cost DBMS retailing at $19.95 ($29.95 for a 10 CPU Virtual licence via in-app purchase). Supports SQL, load balancing, PlayStation 4 and Xbox, but comes without middleware as “that only complicates things,” according to Oracle CFO Safra Katz. Extremely popular in the growing BYOD (Bring Your Own Database) market. Note – to avoid confusion, Oracle’s MySQL has now been moved to the company’s Still Cheap But Not Really Cheerful Any More business unit.

Apple iPhone Value Range. Apple’s low-cost, plastic-bodied handsets were an instant hit, with Samsung now suing for patent infringement over “a flimsy back that feels as if it’s going to crack when you remove it to get at the SIM card.” Comes with Apple’s new tOS ( ‘totally Open System’) firmware including a user-patchable kernel, cross-app data snooping API and automatic password-free network share of your root folder (note – this is temporarily disabled after an RFID tag on a pair of Dorothy Perkins jeggings posted on a passing customer’s Facebook account, but can be reactivated using a hack from Apple’s official Tips ‘n Tricks Web site).

Microsoft Uncomplicated API. The result of the top-secret Operation Dead Wood project at Microsoft’s Redmond HQ, UAPI replaces Win32, WinRT, .NET, COM, DCOM, MAPI, TAPI, ISAPI and 285 other Microsoft technologies with a single API that has just five calls – Read(), Write(), Play(), Pause() and upgradeToProVersion(). “We’ve whittled our new API down to the essential operations that underpin 98 per cent of all application functionality in the cloud-connected mobile ecosphere,” said veteran Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer. “If you need the other two per cent then go run Linux.”

VMware VPhysical. A new, ultra-lightweight hypervisor that allows one instance of a server OS to run on a single physical machine, communicating directly with CPU, memory and peripheral devices with the absolute minimum of performance overhead (measured at 0.00 per cent in benchmarks). “With zero deployment effort and no admin console to monitor, VPhysical reduces datacenter complexity by 92 per cent, with a corresponding impact on TCO. It’s scalable and heterogeneous too – if you need more capacity you just buy another server, plug it in and run whatever OS you like,” said a VMware spokesperson.

Adobe Small Suite of Design Tools (that’s enough simplified products – Ed).