This Week in Modern Software logoWelcome back to This Week in Modern Software, or TWiMS, our weekly analysis of the need-to-know news, stories, and events of interest surrounding the software and analytics industries.

This week, our top story concerns Microsoft bringing its popular database software to Linux.

 

TWiMS Top Story:
Microsoft Is Bringing Its Crown Jewel SQL Server to Linux—InfoWorld

What it’s about: The once-unthinkable has happened: Microsoft is bringing its widely used enterprise database software—SQL Server—to Linux. (In the past, SQL Server ran only on Microsoft’s Windows: Buying SQL Server? You’re buying Windows, too.) Microsoft announced the move late last week in a blog post, and expects general availability of SQL Server on Linux servers by mid-2017. “This will enable SQL Server to deliver a consistent data platform across Windows Server and Linux, as well as on-premises and cloud,” writes Scott Guthrie, EVP of Microsoft’s cloud and enterprise group. A great indicator of the sea change in Microsoft’s strategy: IDC analyst Al Gillen notes that SQL Server on Linux “gives customers choice and reduces concerns for lock-in.” And that quote appears in Microsoft’s own blog post! (It’s tough to imagine that quote appearing on Steve Ballmer’s watch.) While Linux is indeed a competitor of Windows, Gillen also notes the upside for Microsoft: The potential market for SQL Server is now that much larger.

handshake: this week in modern softwareWhy you should care: SQL Server on Linux is yet another bellwether of the ever-increasing power of open source. Microsoft built its multibillion dollar business cross-selling software licenses in a tightly guarded ecosystem of popular business applications. Now, CEO Satya Nadella is aggressively knocking down the walls around the ecosystem as he redefines Microsoft for the modern software, cloud-first era. “Data is the core asset now,” Nadella tells The New York Times. Even Bill Gates, once considered (perhaps unfairly, notes Matt Asay in InfoWorld) open source’s public enemy number one, appears to approve. In a Reddit AMA this week, Gates responded to a question about what SQL Server on Linux means for “the company’s direction, culture, and future.” Gates’ answer: “I think it shows Satya looking at how the market is changing and being willing to change how things have been done. His embrace of the cloud and mobile, including doing software on other people’s mobile platforms, are also great examples of that.” 

Further reading:

 

Tech Companies, New and Old, Clamor to Entice Cloud Computing ExpertsThe New York Times

What it’s about: The already cutthroat competition for cloud computing talent is no longer limited to cloud titans like Amazon, Microsoft, and Google. The New York Times’ Quentin Hardy notes that battleground has expanded into a wide range of businesses and industries, from cloud-related startups and service providers to traditional Fortune 500 giants like GE, as companies of all shapes and sizes embrace the cloud as the new default setting for IT. That growth is compounding the challenges in recruiting and retaining cloud talent, as companies like Amazon Web Services become poaching grounds: A longtime tech recruiter tells Hardy that AWS engineers receive 5 to 20 recruiting offers a day from other employers. Oracle, for one, went on a recent hiring raid at the company’s Seattle operations as it pursues its recent big bet on cloud. That’s leading to staggering salaries, signing bonuses, and stock packages. “It’s an aggressive market,” Corey Sanders, director of program management at Microsoft Azure, tells Hardy.

Why you should care: If you’ve got serious cloud skills, you’re in a command position right now—and for the foreseeable future. In fact, you’re in good shape even if you’ve got minimal real-world experience. Hardy’s piece includes an anecdote about cloud data management startup Krux’s attempt to hire a summer intern from Stanford; the company lost the candidate to Google, who offered her $45,000 for the summer, equivalent to a $180,000 annual salary for a college student. For startups like Krux, that means paying high salaries—perhaps higher than is sensible for many young companies—to hire and retain cloud talent. Krux co-founder Vivek Vaidya calls it “our Facebook tax.” With plenty of companies willing to pay, it’s no suprise Azure’s Sanders tells Hardy: “We are all data engineers now.”

Further reading:

 

Is Group Chat Making You Sweat?Signal v. Noise

What it’s about: “Group chat is like being in an all-day meeting with random participants and no agenda.” That’s a pitch you might not expect to hear from a workplace chat and messaging vendor. But that’s the problem statement that launches Basecamp CEO and founder Jason Fried’s essay, which is the latest salvo in the burgeoning backlash against the meteoric rise of group chat applications like Slack, HipChat, Basecamp, and many others. People feeling frazzled by the always-on chat and messaging apps in their office are learning firsthand how much software influences our workplace cultures, and not always in the ways we expect. Powered by ferocious hype and extremely high expectations, chat and messaging apps have gone a long way toward improving collaboration and solving the problem of overstuffed email inboxes, but they’ve inevitably brought their own share of issues into the office.

angry emoticons: this week in modern softwareWhy you should care: Fried and other “chat fatigue” commentators are not arguing for the end of group chat apps. Rather, they make the case that workplace chat and messaging tools are great for some things and lousy for others—it’s how we use them that matters. Developer teams, especially those spread among multiple locations, can find great value in group chat, for instance. Fried counts “hashing things out quickly” number one among chat’s utilities. But Fried’s list of negatives is much longer than the list of positives, and worth heeding in any chat-minded office. One of the biggest downsides: Always-on, “chat-first” teams tend to breed a “right now!” mindset, or an “ASAP culture,” according to Fried, that can be counterproductiveespecially for developers trying to, you know, actually write code.

Fried is not alone in his criticism. The group chat backlash has been brewing for months, with influential complaints popping up all over the Web. This week in Fast Company, for example, Kelsey Campbell-Dollaghan blames the overly demanding nature of the medium itself for “this emerging backlash, [where] one of the biggest complaints is simple exhaustion: There are too many messages. Too often. And at wildly inappropriate times of day. It’s hard to even stay engaged in the flood, much less work in it.” Recommended reading if you can tear yourself away from your office chat apps.

Further reading:

 

MIT Develops a New Technique to Load Web Pages FasterTechCrunch

What it’s about: Researchers at MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab (CSAIL) and Harvard University may have a new solution for sluggish load times, long the bane of Web users and developers. The system, called “Polaris,” shrinks page-load times by a whopping 34%, according to MIT, by cutting down the number of network trips needed to load all of the various objects on a given page. “It can take up to 100 milliseconds each time a browser has to cross a mobile network to fetch a piece of data,” says Ph.D. student Ravi Netravali in MIT News. “As pages increase in complexity, they often require multiple trips that create delays that really add up. Our approach minimizes the number of round trips so that we can substantially speed up a page’s load-time.”

Why you should care: That hundred milliseconds is a big deal. MIT News notes that Amazon.com has previously estimated a hundred-millisecond delay in page load time cuts its profits by 1%, thanks to abandoned shopping carts and other consequences. Polaris works by tracking the various dependencies between objects in a webpage—which browsers can’t currently detect because of how objects appear in HTML—to create a “dependency graph,” according to MIT. The researchers acknowledge that dependency-trackers have popped up before, but say they’ve failed to track “more subtle dependencies.” MIT News notes that Polaris may be especially useful for large-scale sites because of their growing complexity thanks to “modern pages ballooning to thousands of (JavaScript-heavy) objects.” MIT also expects it to be particularly valuable on mobile networks that have inherently greater latency than wired ones. Of course, right now Polaris remains an academic research project, so there’s no telling when—or if—it will be installed on servers or browser makers will include it in their software.

Further reading: 

 

Public Predictions for the Future of Workforce AutomationPew Research Center

What it’s about: The title of this new survey from the Pew Research Center may sound dull, but the implications are a chilling study in denial and bad math. While 65% of Americans expect computers and robots will do much of the work that humans do today within the next 50 years, most of them don’t think those impacts will apply to them: 80% of the same survey respondents believe their own jobs will still exist in the same form in 50 years. 

Why you should care: The Pew data is another clear indicator that a future governed increasingly by algorithms and machines poses profound new social, economic, legal, and ethical questions that are not yet being addressed. Pew just happened to release its data a day after the second half of Jeff Goodell’s special report on AI for Rolling Stone hit the Web (part one was covered in last week’s edition of TWiMS). “Few economists question the fact that smart machines will soon replace humans in a wide variety of jobs, from fast-food service to truck drivers,” Goodell writes. But the narrative around workforce automation is complex, as Goodell points to a Tesla factory in Silicon Valley to show that humans and robots can work side by side. Still, Pew’s data notes that people whose jobs involve manual labor are especially concerned about being replaced by machines, and for good reason. “The economic transformation will be brutal for many less-skilled workers,” Goodell writes.

Further reading:

 

Fact Sheet: The White House Launches ‘The Opportunity Project,’ Utilizing Open Data to Build Stronger Ladders of Opportunity for AllWhiteHouse.gov

white houseWhat it’s about: In the latest chapter of President Obama’s expansive technology agenda, the White House this week announced The Opportunity Project, a massive open data effort for improving economic mobility and other issues. The project, which will launch in eight cities, aims to make federal and local data accessible and easy to use for everyone, not just those with the right mix of data mining and analytics skills. The idea is to give community leaders and citizens better access to data and tools around jobs, housing, schools, and other major needs and issues. For example, real estate site Redfin, one of The Opportunity Project’s private-sector partners, will release an Opportunity Score app, which shows people those jobs that can be reached from their address in 30 minutes or less by walking, biking, or public transit. “This project is about unleashing the power of data to help our children and our children’s children access the resources they need to thrive,” the White House Office of the Press Secretary says in its fact sheet.

Why you should care: For starters, the government wants your help, issuing a call to developers and others to begin turning the newly released data and tools into valuable, empowering assets for citizens and their communities. As the recently launched Opportunity.Census.Gov site says: “This challenge needs talent like you.” It’s also a reminder that the power of data and technology is only as great as its accessibility. Chief U.S. Data Scientist DJ Patil tells WIRED: “The president has really been focused on the idea of how do you get the force of data to benefit everyday Americans? We should think of technology as neither radical nor revolutionary, unless it impacts every single person.”

Further reading:

 

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Handshake, emoticons, and White House images courtesy of Shutterstock.com.

Kevin Casey writes about technology and business for a wide variety of publications and companies. He won an Azbee Award, given by the American Society of Business Publication Editors, for his InformationWeek story, “Are You Too Old for IT?” He’s also a former community choice honoree in the Small Business Influencer Awards. View posts by .

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