June 9, 2007

Guild Wars game notes

I had the opportunity to interview Mike O’Brien and Pat Wyatt, founders and lead developers for ArenaNet, makers of Guild Wars. This led to two lengthy posts on the technology of Guild Wars (overview) and the database technology of Guild Wars. Those were really, as the titles suggest, tech-focused. This post, by way of contrast, is just to share interesting game-related tidbits with fellow Guild Wars players. I came away with three key notes:

  1. Don’t hold your breath for an auction house. (The reasons are spelled out near the end of the database post.)

  2. Cartographer titles really are calculated based on what fraction of the total possible pixels you’ve opened up, of course with a few grace percentage points so that you don’t need to really open EVERYTHING to get the 100% title. It’s that simple. (And it makes sense. They store the character’s map anyway; there’s little effort in also noting its size.)

  3. Persistence (non-instancing) isn’t as hard as they thought, and they didn’t think it would be all that hard anyway. So in Guild Wars 2 they will have “more sense of a world,” even as there are also plenty of instanced areas ala the current Guild Wars.

There also is tons of cool stuff in the tech posts, and I hope you have a chance to look at them!

June 9, 2007

The technology of Guild Wars (overview)

Being an analyst has its perks, the main one being that you get to have some really interesting conversations. And so I recently had the chance to interview Mike O’Brien and Pat Wyatt, two of the founders and lead programmers for ArenaNet, makers of the Guild Wars MMORPG (Massively MultiPlayer Online Role-Playing Game).

If you play games of this sort, it’s surely obvious to you why you should care. But if you don’t, maybe you should be interested anyway. After all, Guild Wars is a graphics-intensive SaaS offering that easily supports 100,000 simultaneous users, while managing a gig or so of fat client even over dial-up speeds. Every user is a potential hacker, whether for fun or actual real-world cash profit, although we didn’t actually talk about security very much. And ArenaNet provides all this on a relatively shoestring budget; in particular, Guild Wars subscription fees are precisely $0.

Read more

June 6, 2007

Don’t use Office 2007. But do steal its ideas.

You probably shouldn’t use Microsoft Office 2007. Even so, you probably should install and look at it, and then rip off its ideas. I’ll explain.

Microsoft Office Word 2007 is, so far as I can tell, seriously flawed. Specifically, it has been eating way too much of my work for me to happily keep using it. This has been going on long enough that I’m convinced the cause is not simple user error. The final straw yesterday was when changes I’d saved in a draft blog post (about Filemaker) weren’t there five hours later, with no intervening crashes, no messages about “Do you want to close w/ unsaved changes?”, and so on. Naturally, Microsoft (or rather the excellent consultant/expert they’ve provided me to talk with) has never heard of these problems before and is highly perplexed. Anyhow, I plan to keep using Word for highly formatted work – i.e., white papers and Monash Letters – but using it for general note-taking and blogging has turned out to be quite the mistake. (I guess I could go back to Word 2003, but now I’m intrigued by testing the cheaper alternative.)

But all glitches notwithstanding — Office 2007’s “ribbon” is one of the five greatest general UI advances in the past 10-15 years*. Just as the traditional Office menu/icon-row look-and-feel dominates business computing, the ribbon is likely to soon take its place. And deservedly so, at least in two broad classes of application: Analytic and composite. And those two, taken together, happen to comprise the vast majority of the innovation going on in enterprise applications today.

*Three of the other four, in my opinion, are:

  1. The screen-division aspect of dashboards and portals.
  2. Dynamic text-link navigation, also popularized via portals.
  3. Search boxes.

The last slot is left open for personal-taste additions to the list.

Read more

April 7, 2007

Check Point Systems UTM-1 and Crossbeam Systems – resolving the confusion

When Check Point Systems first briefed me on their new midrange UTM-1 appliance, they neglected to mention that their hardware designs were first worked out by Crossbeam Systems. Actually, it turns out that they even buy the hardware through Crossbeam. It took a comment here from Crossbeam’s Chris Hoff for me to realize the true story. Today, I connected with Paul Kaspian of Check Point to straighten things out. Here’s the scoop. Read more

March 29, 2007

More on Shai Agassi and SAP

Sramana Mitra has a little bit of a different take on Shai Agassi’s departure than mine. At first blush, it’s a distinction almost without a difference. In essence, she argues that Shai was frustrated because he couldn’t make big needed changes fast enough. That’s pretty close to my view that change simply wasn’t happening quickly or completely enough.

But the thing is — I think SAP’s overall technology roadmap has remained too incomplete. In essence — and I know some of my friends there will dispute this — SAP is still too focused on delivering software for how people should work, and doesn’t properly support the way they actually do — or realistically would like to — work.

Yes, it’s great that Dennis Moore and Dan Rosenberg are at SAP. But nobody — and this includes Shai — seems to be driving a real software re-think down into the individual products. The move to portal-based technology needs to be the beginning of the software functionality redesign, not the end. Josh Greenbaum thinks that Duet is all that and more, but I don’t see it that way.

March 28, 2007

Shai Agassi – a contrarian view

Shai Agassi is leaving SAP because, in essence, the old guard didn’t want to turn over the reins to him as fast as he would have liked.* Often, this kind of departure is a bad thing (e.g., Ray Lane at Oracle). But I suspect that SAP may actually be improved by Shai’s leaving.

*His other stated reasons include two very good and highly admirable ones – working on energy technologies and improving matters in Israel.

SAP’s technical strategy has three core elements:

  1. Automate business processes.
  2. Provide the technical infrastructure for automating business processes.
  3. Encapsulate process and data at the object/process level.

This strategy has been heavily developed and refined on Shai’s watch, with major contributions from lots of other folks. The issue isn’t vision any more. What SAP needs to do better is execute on the vision.

Read more

March 23, 2007

Great news for Openwave

Dave Peterschmidt is out as CEO of Openwave, and this is a very good thing. Even better, the company is being shopped. Best news: Jerry Held is on the committee doing the shopping. Not that I agree with Jerry on everything, but on the whole he’s pretty astute.

Openwave will probably find a buyer at a decent price. Dave’s bad, but he doesn’t completely destroy companies; there should still be some value there.

March 1, 2007

Check Point caves in

Not long ago, I wrote of Check Point Software’s unusual appliance strategy. While a lot of their sales were on partners’ Type 1 appliances – custom boxes with standard parts — the only appliances they sold themselves were Type 2 – software-only.

However, that turns out to be wrong in two interesting ways. First, it was slightly incorrect all along; Check Point’s “Edge” product line has been Type 1 for almost five years. Second and more important, a few weeks ago Check Point announced that it was finally entering the Type 1 appliance mainstream market itself. Read more

January 29, 2007

Appliances — my conclusions! (For now, at least)

Network World today posted my column predicting a rosy future for computing appliances. A lot of the supporting research has been posted in this blog recently; here’s what was a preliminary summary and survey of appliance vendor strategies.

Subsequent to submitting the column, I developed a simpler taxonomy of computing appliance types, namely:

Type 0: Custom hardware including proprietary ASICs or FPGAs.

Type 1: Custom assembly from off-the-shelf parts. In this model, the only unusual (but still off-the-shelf) parts are usually in the area of network acceleration (or occasionally encryption). Also, the box may be balanced differently than standard systems, in terms of compute power and/or reliability.

Type 2 (Virtual): We don’t need no stinkin’ custom hardware. In this model, the only “appliancy” features are in the areas of easy deployment, custom operating systems, and/or preconfigured hardware.

Here’s what I predict for each of them.

Read more

January 22, 2007

Harbinger Capital Partners vs. Openwave Systems

There’s a lovely proxy battle going on between Openwave Systems and investor group Harbinger Capital Partners. Openwave management , as the incumbents, are pursuing the boring route, with damage control, double-talk, legalese, and so on. Harbinger’s take on things is livelier.

I don’t know much about the details, but I’ll say this — anybody who wants to oust Dave Peterschmidt from a CEO job is probably on the right track. He’s the guy who ran Sybase into the ground, he didn’t have much of a resume before he got the opportunity to do that, and he hasn’t had very good results subsequently either.

If they can find a way to dump Peterschmidt while keeping Jerry Held, who’s the other management-slate board member up for reelection, so much the better. The Harbinger link above suggests that they’ve already had the same idea.

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