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Great Indian Developer Summit - GIDS 2011 Bangalore - GIDS.WEB Sessions, PlayBook Review and More

A personal account of the sessions from Day 2.
By V. Subhash

Before I go on about the sessions, here is some advice about attending events like this.

  1. Check in on time or a bit early if you can.
  2. At the check in counter, ask for the
    1. Layout of the building
    2. List of sessions, their timing and location
    The layout and the list of sessions are usually part of the event brochure. Your attendee kit might contain a lot of marketing material but not this important document. Better download it from the Web.

I was late and missed the opening session. Ahah!

BlackBerry Playbook Unveiling (Research In Motion)

Research In Motion (the makers of BlacBerry devices) unveiled their tablet known as the Playbook.

RIM Playbook
RIM's tablet device, the PlayBook

It was actually unveiled the previous day but this was a live presentation. I got to play with the device after the session. The PlayBook is smaller than an Apple Ipad but functionality is not compromised. It is quite portable and business types might actually get some work done. (You need to plug the BlackBerry to the tablet.) The tablet can run multiple applications simultaneously. I could play the gyroscope- or motion-sensor-enabled Need For Speed Undercover in one window while another window was playing a hi-res video. The screen was sharp. The graphics detail and quality of the NFS game was better than one put out by my PS2. The GUI was very smooth and has all the bells and whistles of its competitors. I saw three ports, one of which was a mini-HDMI capable of putting out full-HD video to a big screen TV. It also has two cameras, one on both sides. The device is supposed to be very safe and system administrators could feel safe using it in a business environment.

The PlayBook uses the QNX realtime operating system (RTOS). QNX was originally a Unix derivative. (I had used that version some 10 years ago, which means that I wrote a "Hello, world!" program in C.) Later, QNX was re-written completely so that it had no open code and could become 100% proprietary. (The Unix heritage is still covered under BSD license I guess.) Recently, RIM acquired QNX and now QNX powers the RIM Playbook.

The PlayBook has its own QNX/Webkit-based browser but I could not check that out. While Andrew Vardon from RIM was not able to obtain WiFi connection, I saw attendees all around me tethered to the NET. They came first and exhausted all the IPs that the DHCP server could offer. (I brought a laptop and a wireless CDMA broadband modem but never needed to use them.) If I were a sponsor, I would demand a separate secured WLAN.

Developers can write applications for the PlayBook using Flash, AIR or the native SDK. There is also another runtime that will allow Android apps to run on the PlayBook. The afore-mentioned NFS game was written using the native SDK. The native SDK seems to have some real advantages because the game looked better than on my PS2. Andrew said that the PlayBook will be introduced at the same price as the Apple Ipad and will be available in stores in about a month.

Design Thinking for Developers (Nokia)

This session by Dhaval Joshi was aimed at all developers and put focus on visual design and usability. Joshi asked developers to study the users first and then develop applications. The developer should start by seeing what the users want than focus on what the product can do. Consistency and predictability was stressed, as were several visual design aspects.

IE9 and IE 10 (Microsoft)

The session "Unleashing A More Beautiful Web" was all about how IE9 and IE10, and how these browsers can leverage multiple CPU cores and offload heavy number crunching to the GPU. Microsoft pointman Harish Vaidyanathan said that modern nVidia GPUs have nine times more processing power than CPUs. Unless you are playing heavy games or running the latest edition of Photoshop, the GPU is mostly sitting idle. IE9 and IE10 are designed to take advantage of the massive processing ability of the GPU. To demonstrate this, Harish showed a HTML5 fish tank demo (written entirely in HTML and JavaScript). The demo ran smoothly in IE but seemed frozen in Chrome. When Harish commented "If you want to know what dead fish are like, they don't move," the audience reacted mildly. But there were loud guffaws from a few guys in a small corner of the hall, all of whom turned out to be from Microsoft!

IE Fish Tank Demo In Opera
Performs better in IE v9/10, says Microsoft

My own test on Windows 7 (on a 2.7 MHz AMD Athlon X2 dual-core CPU) gave the following results. (Note: I got better results from Opera in Windows XP. The screenshot above was taken from XP.)

IE Fish Tank Test Results In Windows 7
Browser250 fishes1000 fishes
Opera 1152
IE 9387
IE 10407

I have my own benchmark to measure browser performance. It is a JavaScript function that sorts e-mail address in a textarea box on a Web page, removes duplicate and invalid e-mail addresses, and then copies the deduplicated list to another textarea box on the same Web page. Chrome comes first in this test in a few seconds as does Firefox. These browsers lock up for a brief moment during the test. Opera remains responsive to user clicks during the test although it takes significantly longer to finish the test. IE8 in Windows XP takes several hours to finish the test with 15,000 e-mail addresses. The results in Windows 7 with 5000 e-mail addresses are below.

Sorting and De-Duplicating 5000 Email Addresses In Windows 7
Browser Time Taken UI
Opera 11.10 Build 2092 2 min 18 sec Responsive
IE 9.0.8112.16421 1 min 42 sec Unresponsive
IE 10.0.1000.16394 1 min 51 sec Unresponsive
Chrome 10.0.648.205 0 min 3 sec Unresponsive
Firefox 4.0 0 min 4 sec Unresponsive

So, neither IE 9 nor IE 10 is faster than Chrome or Firefox. Only Opera remains responsive to user activity during the test. If a JavaScript activity takes more than a few seconds, Chrome and Firefox will show a prompt the user and ask the user to choose between closing the browser or continuing the process. UPDATE (01-06-2011): An Alpha version of yet-to-be released Opera v11.50 is hardware accelerated and performs so fast that it maxes out the demo, which now nees to be re-coded to accommodate higher figures that Opera can achieve.

Developer Awards

Julian Bucknall is a jolly guy and he bagged two awards for DevExpress.

Edmundo Da Cunha

The show started with a magician on the stage complaining that the mic was not working. I was thinking, "Why don't you fix it yourself, you know, with magic." Then, I wondered whether this was why magicians like to call themselves "illusionists".

For the next half hour, the hall reverberated with laughter and howls of amazement as Edmundo De Cunha enthralled the audience with his amazing wit and skill. The obedient and submissive IT crowd was initially reticent but he turned them around with his unending stream of comments and double entendres. Everyone thoroughly enjoyed the show. A good choice by the organizers.

Applications For Humanity (Agile Developer Inc.)

This session by Venkat Subramaniam was billed as "Towards a Human Interface - Aesthetics and Usability." Using common everyday examples, Venkat showed how we have all lost sight of usability, irrespective of whether we make software or cars or buildings. He also showed many examples of how it could be products could be made better by adding some intelligence in them. As an example, he talked about a trial product that picked up the licence key the moment he copied it from the e-mail and put them on the clipboard. He said, "I was so surprised that I turned around to see if there someone else around me who was doing something."

Later, I noted that the auditorium itself could pick up some notes from the session. The main hall is designed symmetrically. There is a wash room on both sides of the hall. On one side, the men have to go to the loo on the right and women have to go to the left. Now, if you seen the signs and committed this to memory, be careful when you go to the loo on the other side. There, men have to go to left and women have to go the right. The design is perfect but the usability (for the absent-minded or spatially impaired) is not there.

Design and Color (Adobe)

Any session that had "world domination" in its name gets my attention. So, I went to "Design First Approach - UI/UX Design For World Domination" by Hemanth Sharma. Sharma was anything but aggressive. The session was really about putting design first and foremost in application development process. A product designed well is a product that brings the big bucks in. (He actually raised both hands to shoulder level and made the "money" sign with the thumb and forefinger.) Sharma referred to airline and railway booking sites as examples of poor design. He then showed an Adobe Air Application that they had built. It did just what the user wanted - nothing more or nothing less. The application was very intuitive and worked with the user - it did not make the user work. This will be more clear when the videos are made available online (I am told) on May 5.

JavaScript and OOP (Agile Developer Inc.)

Not many people realize that JavaScript is a very well developed language and that is supports object-oriented programming. JavaScript does away with a lot of boring inconveniences imposed by other languages and gets the job done in a few lines. A language could not be more straightforward as JavaScript. All of this was the subject of yet another session by Venkat Subramaniam.

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