Gone CES’ing

I’ll be at Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas this week; if anyone I know is there please send me an e-mail. This trip was a last minute decision so finding a hotel room has been a challenge. I finally got a room at the MGM Grand and will be leaving Dubai at 01:30 AM tomorrow on Emirates flight EK 203 from DXB to JFK, then connecting on JetBlue to Vegas. I’m coming back via the same route on Sunday. Hopefully I’ll get to watch Bill Gates’ keynote speech on Wednesday evening.

Unfortunately I’m not going to have time to visit California on this trip. I was really hoping to see my friends and catch the first day of I’ll have to console myself by shopping at the new Fry’s Electronics on the Vegas strip.

End of an era: Mac Internet Explorer

Mac Internet Explorer logoThe last few months have been a time of major change for me, with many things coming to an end and a few new beginnings…not enough maybe. It’s time to add one more to the list, and this blurb on the Microsoft website says it all:

IMPORTANT INFORMATION FOR MICROSOFT INTERNET EXPLORER FOR MAC USERS

In June 2003, the Microsoft Macintosh Business Unit announced that Internet Explorer for Mac would undergo no further development, and support would cease in 2005. In accordance with published support lifecycle policies, Microsoft will end support for Internet Explorer for Mac on December 31st, 2005, and will provide no further security or performance updates.

Additionally, as of January 31st, 2006, Internet Explorer for the Mac will no longer be available for download from Mactopia. It is recommended that Macintosh users migrate to more recent web browsing technologies such as Apple’s Safari.

There was a News.com (CNET) article on this topic back in 2003 when I left Microsoft.

Four years of my life were dedicated to this product and others based on it. Those four years in the Macintosh Business Unit at Microsoft were incredible, and I learned many important lessons and made some great lifelong friends. The most remarkable thing about those four years was that I was able to fulfill a childhood dream…and get paid lots of money for it! My first real computer was an Apple II+ and I have been hooked on Apple’s products since I was six years old. To work in the largest Mac software development team in the world, live 15 minutes away from Cupertino, and become friends with many of the people who were instrumental in making the Macintosh successful was a dream come true.

Along the way, I gained an appreciation for Microsoft which not enough people have. It’s a truly remarkable company that treats its employees well, develops some incredible technology, and deserves all the success it has. As with any large collection of people, Microsoft has made mistakes along the way, but that does not diminish the impact it has had on billions of people’s lives and the way it has helped technology progress. I’m sure people will post some comments telling me how evil Microsoft is and that’s fine. They are wrong, but still entitled to their opinion. I am a hardcore Mac user and reformed Microsoft-hater so no one is going to be able to change my opinion since its based on first hand experience.

This announcement has sparked some debate on Slashdot, which was inevitable. Omar pointed me to a comment to this by our former co-worker Jorg Brown, who now works for Google, which I’ll quote below:

MacIE had one of the strangest and saddest histories I’ve seen, of any product.

MacIE 5 was an awesome release, critically aclaimed and everything, with a good development team and a strong testing team, that included daily performance measurement.

And yet, almost immediately after 5.0 was released, the MacIE team was redeployed to work on a set-top DVR box. The notion at the time was that the team would continue to do MacIE work in their spare time, since IE 5 was the leader among Mac browsers and no longer needed a full-time team.

The problem with that notion was that WebTV, the team’s new bosses, had no reason to actually schedule any time for real IE work. So later, when that particular set-top box got cancelled, the IE team got redployed for other WebTV work, and since this was now out of MacBU’s control, nothing could really be done.

3 or 4 years went by before enough people in the Mac division wanted to resume work on IE, and when it looked like we might actually need the technology, as a base for MSN-for-Mac, the IE 6 team was formed. It got a firm OS X-only foundation, a new even more complient browser base, and then suddenly it became apparent that Apple was doing their own browser, because, well, there were lots of small clues, but the big clues was that Apple had started calling the old Mac IE team offering them jobs.

By that time the Mac division had formally committed to MSN-for-Mac-OSX, so it’s not like we were completely going to stop work. But a meeting was held internally, the outcome of which was that it didn’t make sense to build our own browser if Apple was going to bundle one, because the marketshare and mindshare of the distant-second-place browser, on the distant-second-place platform, wasn’t worth pursuing. A week later we had a meeting with high-up people at Apple, where they told us they were doing a browser. And the week after that, after confirming it with Bill Gates, who was reportedly sad but understanding of the decision, MacIE was officially shut down.

MSN-for-MacOSX went ahead, and was also critically acclaimed, but once released, indications were that the number of users was about the same as the number of developers. After that, MacBU concentrated once again on the next Office release, and MacIE has been well and truly and permanently dead ever since.

Over the whole sad journey, the single most surprising thing I ever discovered was from a small conversation that went:

Me: “Look, if it makes sense to devote dozens of people to WinIE, then surely it makes sense to devote half a dozen to MacIE!”

Higher-up: <confused look> “There aren’t dozens of people on WinIE. WinIE had some great people on it! We need those great people on products that make money!”

Me: “Then why on earth did we pursue IE in the first place? Just so that the DOJ would sue us?”

Higher-up: <confused look>

Some day I hope to get a proper answer on our motivation to do WinIE and MacIE in the first place. It seems to be that we were scared of not having control of the HTML standard. And indeed, now that Firefox is gaining traction, Microsoft has added more people to WinIE again.

Epilogue: All of this made it a lot more easy for me to quit and go work at Google
Reminder: I may or may not be leaving some parts out for NDA reasons.

A lot of what he says is true; but the story is more complex than this and there were many other factors that came into play. Issues which he doesn’t cover…primarily because he wasn’t working on the product much until the last few months of development:

  • – Mac IE was the first real browser running on Mac OS X. We had it running on Developer Preview 2 and it shipped on the Public Beta CD-ROM. That was a great engineering achievement but it came at a very high price. Developing for OS X in those early days was a nightmare and we spent so much time struggling with OS bugs and changing APIs that precious time that could have been used to improve the product was wasted just trying to maintain compatibility with each new beta release of OS X.
  • – Apple was a pain in the ass sometimes. For a company with such great PR, they really were very unprofessional and treated developers poorly. I know that the OS X transition was tough, but there are so many stories I could tell of stupidity at Apple and policies which made no sense…but I won’t. I’ll just say that Apple had a lot more involvement in the development of Mac IE and it’s eventual end than Jorg gives them credit for. There were times during the last two years of working at Microsoft that I really hated Apple’s management…which was very difficult for me being such a loyal fan of their products and having so many friends who worked there.
  • – No clear direction from our management was the last major factor which Jorg touched upon but is important to mention again. Towards the end, we had some major changes in management at the MacBU and the new team was inexperienced both with the products they were managing and how to deal with Apple. They were further handicapped by lack of clear direction by our execs who were too busy worrying about AOL, the DOJ, and our stock price.

Anyway, enough about the history. Mac IE is dead, and it’s up to Apple and the Mozilla team to continue to innovate for us Mac users. Sadly, there are still many very useful features in Mac IE that neither company has replicated in their browsers and there are still too many sites which don’t look right in Safari. I remember calling up CNN and ESPN and getting them to fix problems in their websites…it worked and I hope Apple has a group of people doing the same thing.

Since Microsoft will no longer be offering Mac IE 5 for download on their website, I’m going to provide a community service by linking to it here. It has not been totally replaced and at least I need a place to be able to download it from for my own personal use…but you’ll have to know what to click on to download it. ;-)

If you ever want to know who the people behind Mac IE 5 were, just type “about:tasman” in the address bar of Mac IE and you’ll get a list of the people who put their heart and soul into making it such a remarkable and successful product.

EDIT: Link removed at Microsoft’s request.

The new Mercedes-Benz GL-Class: First class on and off the road

From a DaimlerChrysler press release dated yesterday (December 9th, 2005):

Stuttgart, 12/09/2005 – Mercedes-Benz is to unveil a new highlight in the luxury Sport Utility Vehicle market segment: the GL-Class. The seven-seater premium off-roader offers excellent handling both on and off-road and pampers occupants with its extremely spacious accommodation and the comfort of a luxury saloon. The GL-Class sets another milestone with PRE-SAFE®, the comprehensive safety concept, a first in this market segment.

With its poised, assured presence, the GL-Class leaves you in no doubt about its aspirations to conquer this competitive market segment. The distinctive design idiom exudes power and exclusivity. Calm body surfaces, powerful, wedge-shaped features and striking details give the impression the luxury off-roader is surging forward even when stationary. The spacious body (length 5088 mm, width 1920 mm, height 1840 mm) is beautifully proportioned.

Superlative comfort whatever the conditions

The welcoming interior with its top-quality materials provides passengers with that feel-good atmosphere as only Mercedes knows how, with more than ample space for up to seven passengers. The GL-Class offers superb comfort on board – whether you’re just popping into town, cruising hundreds of kilometres or negotiating rough terrain. Occupants still enjoy good freedom of movement even on the two full-sized individual seats in the third row of seats. The distance to the middle row of seats is 815 mm, with 979 mm headroom for passengers. If you need fewer seats, the rear individual seats can be stowed electrically at the push of a button, either individually or in tandem to provide a completely flat load surface. In the five-seater version, luggage compartment capacity is 1240 litres – an impressive benchmark value in the class. The GL-Class can provide up to 2300 litres of load capacity, with the load compartment measuring 2128 mm in length. In line with the wide range of applications handled by the versatile all-rounder, the THERMATIC automatic climate control system fitted as standard in the GL 320 CDI provides consistent temperature for all seven seats both in the depths of winter and on those sweltering summer days. The versions with V8 engines such as the GL 420 CDI, GL 450 and GL 500 come with the standard-fit multi-zone THERMOTRONIC system, which offers even more climatic comfort. Other standard-fit convenience and comfort appointments include ARTICO man-made leather upholstery combinations, electrically adjustable front seats and a fixed rear glass roof above the third row of seats.

Intelligent solutions promote excellent safety

The GL-Class makes full use of the advantages of its unitised body, combining optimum strength with intelligent lightweight steel design. The result is excellent passive safety that is far superior to comparable models with a ladder-type frame. Combined with the front and rear deformation zones, the high-strength occupant cell forms an efficient base for the occupant protection systems that include:

  • Adaptive, two-stage airbags for the driver and front passenger
  • Sidebags in the front, and in the middle row of seats as an option
  • Windowbags across all three rows of seats from the A to the D-pillar
  • NECK-PRO crash-responsive head restraints for the driver and front passenger as an option
  • 3-point seat belts on all seven seats
  • Seat-belt tensioners and adaptive belt-force limiters for the driver and front passenger, seat-belt tensioners and single-stage belt-force limiters on the outer seats in the middle row

With the optionally available PRE-SAFE® preventive occupant protection system, a world first in this market segment, Mercedes-Benz has raised safety to an even higher level. The system’s most striking feature: passive and active safety systems are networked with each other. PRE-SAFE® utilises the sensors in the dynamic handling control systems such as ABS, BAS (Brake Assist) and ESP® and optimises the protective function of the passive safety components in potential accident situations. The GL-Class also takes the often neglected issue of pedestrian protection to a new level. The front section includes precisely defined ample crumple space between the body and the major assemblies underneath. In conjunction with impact zones that are designed to yield, this design provides a high degree of protection both for pedestrians and cyclists.

The GL-Class meets all the requirements of a state-of-the-art, luxury SUV, or even redefines them on a higher level. Yet the hallmark Mercedes off-roader genes such as superlative robustness, ruggedness and long-term durability have not been compromised. It is not for nothing that the model designation echoes the legendary precursor of all Mercedes-Benz off-road vehicles – the G-Class. The evergreen off-roader is now entering its 26th year of production and will continue to be marketed alongside the new GL-Class.

Outstanding handling on and off-road

4MATIC – the permanent four-wheel drive from Mercedes-Benz – provides the GL-Class with superior handling whatever the conditions. Together with the standard-fit AIRMATIC air suspension, the precise speed-sensitive power steering and the ADS Adaptive Damper System also fitted as standard, the imposing GL-Class (wheelbase 3075 mm) handles impressively. Handling when pulling a trailer is no less impressive thanks to the ESP® component TSA (Trailer Stability Assist). TSA defuses critical driving situations involving a trailer before they become dangerous by precisely applying the brakes, while AIRMATIC provides fully automatic level adjustment.

Special off-road features such as Downhill Speed Regulation (DSR), hill-start assist and off-road ABS assist the GL-Class driver off road. The Off-Road Pro engineering package, standard on all ECE models, means the GL-Class can also handle the most extreme off-road terrain. This includes a two-speed transfer case with a low range ratio and 100 percent differential locks for the transfer case and the rear axle. The modified AIRMATIC air suspension, designed specifically for the more demanding conditions, increases the ground clearance to a maximum of 307 millimetres where required, and raises the fording depth to 600 millimetres.

Majestic drive systems: new V6 and V8 engines

The ultra-modern engine line-up in all GL-Class models provides superlative drive comfort and compelling performance coupled with superior fuel consumption figures compared with other vehicles in the class. Alongside the 165-kW/224-hp V6 engine in the GL 320 CDI, the range of diesel models includes the new-generation high-performance V8 diesel in the GL 420 CDI, which now has an output of 225 kW/ 306 hp and maximum torque of 700 Nm. Both diesel-powered versions undercut the EU 4 limits and feature a maintenance-free diesel particulate filter. In addition to the newly developed 5.5-litre, 285-kW/388-hp engine in the GL 500, launched earlier in the new S-Class, the second unit in this ultra-modern V8 family of engines is celebrating its world premiere in the GL-Class. In the GL 450 the 4.6-litre engine develops 250 kW/340 hp. Both engines also fulfil the stringent EU 4 limits (USA: LEV II standard).

All GL-Class engine variants come with the standard-fit 7G-TRONIC seven-speed automatic transmission with DIRECT SELECT. Excellent performance and low fuel consumption result not just from the perfect combination of ultra-modern engines with 7G-TRONIC and the friction-optimised powertrain. Another important factor is the comparatively low gross vehicle weight thanks to the unitised body and the excellent aerodynamics (Cd 0.37) for such a large vehicle.

Success story from state-of-the-art production facilities

“Mercedes Quality – Made in America” has established itself as the company’s new trademark on the other side of the Atlantic and illustrates the success story of the DaimlerChrysler plant in Tuscaloosa/Alabama. The birthplace of the GL-Class started production in 1997 as the first Mercedes-Benz plant outside Europe. Around 600 million US dollars have been invested since 2001 in expanding and constantly modernising the plant; overall the company has invested around 1 billion US dollars. Following the extension of the Tuscaloosa plant in May 2005, its theoretical annual production capacity for all model series stands at 160,000 units. The new GL-Class is now the third model series to be built here, alongside the M-Class and the R-Class.

The world premiere of the new Mercedes-Benz GL-Class will take place at the North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) in Detroit in January 2006. U.S. customers will be the first to savour the delights of the new trendsetter in the spring; European customers will have to wait until September 2006 for a taste of the versatile off-roader.

The GL-Class will arrive in Australia in the fourth quarter of 2006. Engine line-up, standard specifications and pricing for Australia will be announced closer to the vehicle’s arrival in Australia.

More details and official pictures are available on GermanCarFans.com.

Gone skiing!

I finally made time today to go skiing with the boys and we had a great time. This was my first time inside Ski Dubai and it exceeded my expectations. Only the lower 2/3 of the slope was open, but the upper slope is beyond my capabilities (black diamond). We spent about three hours on the slope using rented clothes and equipment and it’s clear that this is going to become a very popular attraction for tourists and residents alike. I highly recommend it. The snow was real, the ski lift is real, and it’s cold! The only things I missed compared to a real mountain was the length of the run, scenic beauty of being outdoors, and sunshine.

The Lower Slope:
Ski Dubai lower slope

Me standing at the Cafe St. Moritz at the top of the lower slope:
Jimmy at Cafe St. Moritz in Ski Dubai

View of the upper slope, opening in ten days:
Ski Dubai upper slope

Hacked again

Who says you can’t hack a Mac? Maybe the OS itself is more secure, mostly because a lot of it wasn’t written by Apple and it doesn’t have as many features as Windows Server, but Mac OS X Server is as insecure as any other operating system due to the applications which can run on it. Point in case, this website. It’s hosted on a server running Mac OS X Server, but for the second time this year the server was hacked (shared server) and it’s becoming a real pain in the ass.

Iran earthquake rattles Dubai

The shockwave from a magnitude 6.1 earthquake in Southern Iran rattled buildings in Dubai and the Northern Emirates, and brought many people out onto the streets this afternoon. It was mostly a case of people overreacting but a warning nonetheless to the authorities to ensure that all of the tall buildings being constructed in Dubai are built to international standards for earthquake resistance.

More info on this earthquake is available from the US Geological Survey’s website: https://earthquake.usgs.gov/recenteqsww/Quakes/usfyag.htm

Some articles from the Gulf News:
UAE rocked by Iran quake
Dubai residents recount tremor

CNN.com map of earthquake location

Map of earthquake location

Video of Airbus A380 in flight

I managed to film the Airbus A380 which was at the Dubai Airshow going through its fly-by. The original video was filmed in HD (1080i), but to make it easier for me to post it online and for people to download, I have edited it and scaled it down to DVD quality.

UPDATE: Videos are no longer available for download as my host (Apple’s .Mac service) was unhappy with the large number of people downloading them. In April, more than 1.3 TB of videos was downloaded which is 5 times what Apple allows. I’ll update the links below when I find an alternate place to host these videos.

A380 – QuickTime 7 DVD Quality
A380 – Windows Media 9 DVD Quality
A380 – Windows Media 9 HDTV (1080p) Quality