Gary Allison's Leadership Blog

November 2008

Leadership16 Nov 2008 07:42 pm

U.S. FlagVeteran’s Day was this week and I received an email from my Dad, the Colonel, that I wanted to share with everyone.  No, it has nothing to do with technology, but it has everything to do with being an American, and being grateful.  Things that I believe are in short supply these days.

“Each year on Vets day and/or Memorial day, I normally send out a greeting to my fellow veterans and loyal American friends.  For various reasons this year, I have not been in the mood and have not been very moved.  I cannot pinpoint precisely why.  I have not changed in my firm belief in this great nation and all that it stands for. Having personally spent over thirty years in support of and defense of a set of values, I am not likely to change my mindset.

What is finally getting through to me is that there are a measure if folk who claim citizenship to this nation that I dearly love who do not feel nearly as committed to it as do I.  Most of these citizens have never done anything in support of this country but rather have gone to great effort to verbally and by their actions demeaned and disgraced it.  While I have always been aware that such folk were there, I had them fixed on the fringe and that we loyal and patriotic citizens were in the mainstream.  By nature I have always been optimistic, yet for the first time, I now harbor some lingering doubts.

In awful places all over this earth good and patriotic servicemen and women stand in support of this wonderful nation, putting themselves in grave danger by their own choice.  This knowledge gives me reason for hope.  Yet, I see large segments of our population who either are ignorant of this concept of service or who chose to ignore any responsibility to defend our nation by word or deed.  When we reach a point where there are few willing to support our values but many who are willing to damn them, we fail to function as a nation and are reprehensible as a people.  As Vets, we must insure that we do all that we can to keep those who love our nation in the forefront.  We must teach well our children and grandchildren.

When the next catastrophic attack occurs, let us pray that another generation of warriors are out there like a sleeping tiger ready to come forward.  It is my belief that we will likely need those young warriors and very soon if our leadership wavers or shows weakness.  Amid the gloom, there is always cause for hope.  I wish all of my former comrades in arms a wonderful Vets day and hope that my remarks did not throw cold water on an other wise wonderful day.  I feel that we must remain very vigilant in the next few months/years to insure we do not loose our moral fabric and thus our way as a nation.”

Thank you Dad.  Thanks for the many times you risked your life for our country.  I am so proud of you.

Everyday Tech and Tech News15 Nov 2008 05:19 pm

The 30 day experience of a life without windows is off to a fast a furious start.  Some early conclusions are clear.  If you are a technophile, read on, otherwise stop and head to Apple and buy a Mac.  (Does anyone like the new MacBook Pro keyboard?  What were they thinking?)  Still Apple is the only way to go right now if you are not seriously technically adept.

Installing Ubuntu was very easy.  First though, you have to convince Windows Vista to free up some disk space so you can shrink the Windows disk to make room for your Ubuntu disk partition.  This should be easy in Vista with the first version of Windows that includes built in tools to allow you to shrink a partition.  But, like the IRS, there is always a catch with Vista.  It just doesn’t work.  You have to jump through many hoops because Vista writes certain system files at the end of the disk and then tells you you can’t shrink the volume.  Here’s a great write up on the many, many hoops you need to jump through to eventually convince Vista to turn loose of some disk space.  Aarrrggh.

Once you convince Vista to resize the partitions, you will still have a huge chunk of free space left on the Windows disk, but you can then at least create the Ubuntu partition.  The Ubuntu install instructions are very straightforward on what to do.  (again, if you aren’t pretty tech savvy, buy a Mac, you’ll be happier any way).  At the end, you will be able to boot Windows or Ubuntu Linux.

Next challenge is VPN – an indespensible necessity in the corporate world.  I could never get the Cisco VPN client to work, though it seems it works for most people in my googling.  I kept getting “Remote Peer Not Responding” blah blah blah.  Thank goodness for this post that shows how set up VPNC.  It worked perfectly the first time and everytime since.

Since your network probably has files shared from Windows servers, you’ll need to get to them too.  Here’s how to do that.

But the big one is Outlook.  The corporate world still largely revolves around the Exchange server.  Connecting from Linux is somewhat of a challenge.  If you are a light email user, and don’t have a complicated calendar, try the Evolution client that is built into Ubuntu.  It is a mail/calendar/contacts client that connects to the Outlook Web Access service on Exchange.  For very light duties, it seems to work ok.  It didn’t work for me at all.  It hung, stalled, and just generally ground to a halt no matter what I tried.  The only real option out there is Outlook for dealing with Exchange.

A pretty good solution here is Crossover – a program for Linux that emulates Windows.  These have been around for years and are getting to the point they actually work – mostly.  Under Crossover, you can install a variety of Windows programs, including believe it or not Office 2007.  It actually works.  Mostly.  More on that later.

Everyday Tech and Tech News09 Nov 2008 09:55 pm

All over North Austin, the new Microsoft “Life without walls” billboards have popped up.  You may have read before in my blog what an awful experience I have had with Vista, clearly one of the worst experience I’ve ever had with a piece of software.  I even went so far as to by a MacBook Pro last year and absolutely love it!

Still there is this issue with the Vista laptop on my desk at work. Its on my desk because that is the only place it consistenly works.  Mobility is not something you want to experience with Vista. Unreliable wireless and endless frustration with VPN make it just not worth the pain.

So I was inspired by Microsoft’s billboards this weekend.  Life without walls to me means Life without Windows.  I’m going to see if it is possible, in a business world ruled by the Microsoft Exchange Server.  This insidious strategy is definitely to be admired.  The truth is that most businesses run on Exchange for their email and calendaring solution.

So, this is my inspiration from the Microsoft sloganeering – I am going to see what it will take to have a life without windows.  within 30days, I hope to be completely switched over from Vista to Ubuntu linux.  Ubuntu LinuxCan it be done?  Its not a slam dunk – surely there will be challenges.   More to come on these pages…

Tech News05 Nov 2008 08:52 pm

At the Dreamforce, everywhere you looked, there was the ubiquitous “No Software” logo.  It was even embodied in SaaSy the Salesforce mascot who was frequently on stage with Benioff.  I found it quite illuminating that so many of the sessions I went to were about Building applications with Apex, Salesforce’s Java-like programming language, and the new Visualforce presentation language, akin to java server pages.  There was code everywhere.  Even at the Monday Night Sites competition where contestants had 2 hours to build the coolest Salesforce sites page they could.  Boy, it sure looked like we were all programming.  Hmmmm….  I use an IDE to write code like software, there’s objects, classes, and simple inheritance like software, it even has bugs like software!  Smells a lot like software to me.  I think software engineers are safe.

What it should say, but this would be problematic for their sales, is no IT.  That’s what Salesforce really enables – no IT infrastructure, at least in the traditional sense.  No application servers, no databases, no backups, no security auditors.  Host your business email and calendars on Google domains and no Microsoft Exchange.  I assure you Redmond is damn worried.

No IT, Salesforce new logo

So, here’s my new suggested Salesforce logo.  What do you say Marc?

Effective Software Projects and Tech News04 Nov 2008 02:03 pm

This week finds me at’s Dreamforce show where a number of very interesting developments are coming to light.  In Marc Benioff’s keynote yesterday, he emphasized the role of cloud computing in the future of all application development, throwing jabs at Microsoft all along the way.  Benioff cast the cloud into these sets of services:

  • Amazon is the server plumbing and storage – their EC2 elastic computing cloud providing all the virtual servers you need while S3 provides boundless very low cost storage
  • Google is the Microsoft Office and Sharepoint alternative, offering shared applications like calendaring, documents, and spreadsheets, with the capability to share all three, plus adwords that can feed into salesforce leads
  • Facebook offers the social graph where new applications can leverage and integrate to spread virally
  • Salesforce’s is the application layer to develop business apps and tie all the above together on every platform, mobile to all browsers

This staking out of claims on the cloud computescape is a fascinating thought to me.  While I’m not sure that all other other companies would agree with the above positioning, there has never been a more exciting time to be in software development – the cost  of building a truly scalable application that can service tens of thousands of users  is truly in every developer’s reach.  I woke up at 1 am this morning with my mind racing about how the applications I and others could build!  This clearly has implications for global software development, lowering the bar for anyone in any country who has a great idea to build it out with a small team and bootstrap an effort self funded.

It also means that if you were thinking of corporate IT as a long term career, you should think again.  These services are going to consolidate into a few very large providers, at the end of the day, this is good for our industry. It allows the great ideas, the great innovations to be born more quickly, removing unnecessary barriers and hurdles.