Here are the latest insights in to what’s hot in the technology sector.

iPhone 4
Unless you’ve been living in a cave for the past couple of months, you can’t have missed the announcement from Apple of the iPhone 4. Gosh, doesn’t it make your current 3GS look ugly and slow?! Hope you’re not stuck in the middle of a two year contract, that’s a long time to wait before you can upgrade…

Obviously, there’s plenty of coverage on the internet of the new features and how Apple consider this new version ‘Changes Everything. Again’. Does it really? Is it really such a game changer as the original iPhone? I’m not convinced. Better certainly, assuming you hold it correctly (!), but hardly revolutionary.

Adobe, meanwhile, have been whinging quite a lot over the exclusion of Flash from Apple’s devices. They’ve got a lot of valid arguments and I agree with a lot of what they say. I even feel slightly sorry for them that they are being marginalised, but then I remember how truly terrible the Flash plugin actually is in terms of performance, security and privacy. Come on Adobe, if you really feel that Flash is a valid part of the web, then at least produce a version of your plugin that isn’t awful.

HTML 5 and VP8

All this talk of how Flash is rubbish and web standards are all that are needed to make rich user interface for web applications is focused on the next version of the HTML standard, version 5. Now, HTML5 isn’t even a standard yet but browser makers are already implementing the new features that the new standard will cover. This is great for web developers as they can produce such rich interfaces without the need for reliance on proprietary plugins, but a complete replacement for the likes of Flash is still a way off. There’s some interesting commentary here, especially in the comments section: http://www.tbray.org/ongoing/When/201x/2010/05/05/HTML5-and-the-Web

One area of HTML5 that has produced considerable controversy is the new <video> tag, which allows displaying video within a web page much like Flash does. There’s been a lot of back and forth over which video codec(s) should be included in the standard and whether they are open enough for use in such an important standard such as HTML. Even the web browser manufacturers were sticking their oars in with competing manufacturers only supporting competing codecs. So for a while, it did look like there wouldn’t be a proper, cross-browser standard for the <video> tag.

Google have now upped the ante by releasing their VP8 codec as an open standard (called WebM) that all browser manufacturers could support. They claim that they have checked the standard for patents and believe it to be patent-free. Independent analysis has shown that it is very similar to the proprietary H.264 standard previous pushed as the standard for video encoding in HTML5. So, things are still not clear in this area, but then HTML5 isn’t yet a standard as I previously pointed out. Interestingly, Microsoft have announced that they will support playback of WebM video in IE9, so things are looking up for standard, Flash-free video on the web.

IE6 – 9 Year Old Milk

A lot has been covered on the internet in recent years about the continued use of Internet Explorer 6, especially its use in corporate environments. Web developers hate having to continue supporting IE6 when modern web browsers (including newer versions of IE) have much better support for web standards. Excluding support for IE6 means that a lot less effort and cost is required to support access to a web application or site from multiple modern web browsers. Some major web sites have even started presenting a warning to users of IE6 when they access those sites, telling them to upgrade.

Up until recently, Microsoft have stated that they continue to support IE6. They still support Windows XP, and IE6 came with that operating system, so why would they not continue to support it? That is, as I said, until recently. Microsoft (admittedly their Australia operation, but this is still an official company announcement) have since compared using IE6 to drink nine year old milk. Lovely. http://hothardware.com/News/Microsoft-Likens-Internet-Explorer-6-To-Spoiled-Milk/

Office Web Apps

After a couple of months of product releases to a great fanfare Microsoft have been relatively quiet in the last month. One interesting piece of news from Microsoft that happened without all the noise of, for example, the Visual Studio 2010 release is the release of Office Live. This service allows you to view, edit and manage Word, Excel, OneNote and PowerPoint documents through a web browser.

This does appear to be a reaction to the threat that Google Docs has on their core Office business, although Microsoft don’t tend to publicly admit that they see Google Docs as serious competitor rather talking about the rich feature set that Office has and how so many of those features are missing in Google Docs. It is interesting to note, however, that the new Office web apps have very similar online collaboration facilities that Google Docs have, allow multiple users to edit the same document online.

Details can be found at http://windowsteamblog.com/windows_live/b/windowslive/archive/2010/06/07/office-is-now-live-on-skydrive.aspx or you can just go to http://office.live.com and log in with your Windows Live account.

SQL Azure Database Size

I’ve previously lamented the maximum size of a SQL database instance on Microsoft’s Azure platform and how the transparent scaling capability promised by cloud computing is not easily achieved with this service. Microsoft have recently announced that they are increasing the maximum size of a single SQL Azure instance to 50GB, up from 15GB. This would certainly help when migrating some SME-sized applications to Azure, but they still need to work on making it easier to scale across SQL Azure instances.

Talking of Azure, I recently came across a free eBook covering working with Azure: http://geekswithblogs.net/iupdateable/archive/2010/06/23/windows-azure-platform-articles-from-the-trenches-volume-1.aspx I haven’t had the opportunity to review all the content but on first inspection it does look like it provides some interesting advice gathered from real-world experience.