Welcome to This Week in Modern Software, or TWiMS, our weekly roundup of the need-to-know news, stories, and events of interest surrounding software analytics, cloud computing, application monitoring, development methodologies, programming languages, and the myriad of other issues that influence modern software.
This week, our top story addresses the implications of the Supreme Court’s decision to not hear the Oracle v. Google copyright infringement case.
TWiMS Top Story:
Supreme Court Declines to Hear Oracle v. Google Case Over Software Copyright—The Verge
What it’s about: The United States Supreme Court has been plenty busy lately, issuing momentous decisions on cases involving healthcare and same-sex marriage. But a case the Supreme Court decided not to hear sent shockwaves through the software industry: the high court declined to hear Google v. Oracle, the software copyright lawsuit that concerns, among other issues, Google’s use of Java APIs in its Android ecosystem. The case, which dates back to Oracle’s original lawsuit against Google in 2010, will now go back to district court.
Why you should care: By seemingly every tech journalist and publication’s account, the Supreme Court—by declining to hear the case—handed Oracle a de facto victory, as Google must now go back to the lower court to prove its use of Java APIs is protected under notoriously vague fair use laws. The case’s ultimate resolution could have a sweeping impact on developers and software companies, especially smaller ones. As noted by The Verge, citing an Electronic Frontier Foundation brief, a ruling that APIs are copyrightable could give a select few tech giants “‘unprecedented and dangerous power’ over developers by making it substantially more difficult for upstarts to create new software.”
Progammable Web’s David Berlind, who sides openly with Google and the fair use protections for software APIs, notes a wide range of possible outcomes, including a situation where APIs can be copyrighted and not protected under fair use—which Berlind predicts could turn the API economy over to the patent trolls and stifle software innovation.
- Supreme Court Delivers Major Blow to API Economy in Copyright Ruling—Programmable Web
- Oracle Gains Win Over Google at Supreme Court—The Wall Street Journal
- Supreme Court Won’t Weigh in on Oracle-Google API Copyright Battle—Ars Technica
55% of Enterprises Predict Cloud Computing Will Enable New Business Models in Three Years—Enterprise Irregulars
What it’s about: Doubtful about the staying power of cloud computing in the enterprise? You’ve got less and less company, according to a recent survey conducted by Oxford Economics and SAP. Nearly 70% of respondents say they’re making moderate-to-heavy cloud investments during the next three years, moving more and more core business applications online.
Why you should care: The real news here isn’t just about enterprise spending in the cloud. Rather, it’s that spending is expected to enable new business models and revenue streams. Some 44% of respondents say cloud is already doing that now, but they expect that to rise to 55% over the next three years. It’s an impact of cloud adoption that sometimes gets overlooked amid the hype: The cloud’s not just about dumping that clunky old business app for a newer model delivered as a service. The real benefit comes in unlocking new business models and opportunities.
The report notes that developing new products and services (61%), new lines of business (51%), and entering new markets (40%) as three key drivers behind cloud adoption during the next three years. For developing new products and services, this represents a 35% spike in that time frame, making it the greatest single driver of cloud’s near-term growth, according to the study.
What it’s about: MIT researchers are working on a system called CodePhage that not only identifies potential software vulnerabilities, but then fixes them automatically by borrowing healthy code from another group of applications. Using the language of the medical industry—the flawed program is the “recipient” and the healthy ones it borrows functionality from are the “donors”—the researchers say the system works by recording symbolically the results of two inputs, one that crashes the recipient program and one that doesn’t. Then the system looks for points when those symbolic expressions differ to identify, say, a missing security check in the recipient program.
Why you should care: Everyone wants more reliable, more secure software. And developers will love this: MIT says CodePhage could eventually cut down on the amount of repetitive manual coding devs must do to ensure their applications’ security. According to the researchers, security checks can take up to 80% of the code behind modern commercial software, which creates a lot of extra work.
“The longer-term vision is that you never have to write a piece of code that somebody else has written before,” says MIT professor of computer science and engineering Martin Rinard, one of the CodePhage’s coauthors. “The system finds that piece of code and automatically puts it together with whatever pieces of code you need to make your program work.” Moreover, CodePhage doesn’t necessarily need access to the source code of donor programs to work, nor do donor programs need to be written in the same language as the recipient program. Wow!
- Automatic Bug Repair—MIT News Office
What it’s about: “James Li” (a pseudonym) tripled his income in Shanghai, China, by driving part-time for Uber. But don’t expect Uber to tout Li’s story as yet another testimonial for the sharing economy: Li says he’s scamming Uber, collecting income and bonuses without actually giving anyone a ride, according to a Bloomberg investigation.
Why you should care: It’s a fascinating case study in what happens to software when human beings interact with it: There’s no guarantee people will use your applications the way you intend them to, and there are plenty of shady operators trying to find loopholes. In Li’s case, he’s taking advantage of Uber’s billion-dollar plan to use drive subsidies to break into the massive Chinese market. It’s a reminder that even in a world that runs on software, you can’t ignore the human element when building a business and managing risk.
The report suggests Uber is getting better at detecting and stamping out fraud, but it still has a ways to go—the company says it will get fraudulent bookings in China down to 0.5% from “less than 10%” today. That sounds like a critical challenge given the potential market and how much Uber’s spending to break into it.
What it’s about: We love data, but we’re drowning in it. Lev Grossman serves up a flagship piece in Time’s new “Answers Issue” on how and why people turn to a time-tested field—art—to help make sense of the massive amounts of information created and stored every day.
Why you should care: You might not realize just how old the field of data visualization actually is. Grossman’s story opens with William Playfair, born in 1759, whose triple claim to fame is the invention of the line graph, bar chart, and pie chart as graphical representations of data. (Grossman notes that Playfair, who died in poverty, would likely be chief data officer of a buzzy Silicon Valley startup if he were alive today.) The use of the visual arts to wrangle data into meaningful insights has grown up since then, but Playfair’s creations remain as relevant as ever: Ultimately, they help people see and understand data that might otherwise be rendered incomprehensible by the accompanying noise and volume.
A modern-day example: Chris Whong’s visualization of the movements and earnings of New York City taxi drivers in a single 24-hour period, built on 50GB of data obtained via a Freedom of Information Act request. (Whong presented his findings at New Relic’s FutureStack14 user conference.) The key: Your data is only as valuable as what you can learn from it.