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Paul E. Jones' Blog

It's Official: XMPP is the Winner for Instant Messaging and Presence

February 12, 2010

Perhaps this is hardly news, but it has been a very slow time coming. Back in 1999 or 2000, there was a push to try to integrate H.323 with XMPP. The challenge with doing that, as you can imagine, was that H.323 is focused on voice and video, while XMPP is focused on instant messaging and presence. Trying to glue these two technologies together is challenging at best. So, the H.323 experts group elected to let the protocols go their independent directions.

Then, in the early 2000s there was an effort in the SIP-related working groups in the IETF to, dare I say, clobber XMPP with the introduction of presence and instant messaging functionality in SIP. Like H.323, SIP was not designed to do that and, while it could be done, did it make sense? Apparently, some people felt that it did and so they forged ahead with the creation of SIMPLE, which are are hardly trivial extensions to SIP that enable instant messaging and presence. The problem is that it never took off.

Meanwhile, Jabber (the company behind XMPP) was making significant inroads in the enterprise market with XMPP. It was great: it was secure, scalable, and worked seamlessly between enterprise domains.

Google recognized the strength of XMPP and decided to adopt that protocol for its IM client rather than introduce yet another proprietary IM protocol in the market. That was a smart move.

Over the past couple of years, virtually every instant messaging provider and enterprise product manufacturer working in this space has announced support for XMPP and many have already delivered.

Cisco acquired Jabber and the service is already available from its WebEx division. Microsoft announced support in OCS. Of course, Google was already deploying XMPP with GoogleTalk. AOL adopted XMPP. Yahoo! seem to be moving in that direction. IBM Lotus Sametime supports XMPP. Most recently, Facebook announced support for XMPP.

So, with support from virtually every major network in the world, coupled with the fact that any domain owner can operate an XMPP server much like one can an email server, the winner is clear: XMPP is the standard for instant messaging and presence.

Permalink: It's Official: XMPP is the Winner for Instant Messaging and Presence

Avaya to the Power of N?

January 21, 2010

As many of you probably know, Avaya acquired Nortel's enterprise assets a few months ago. Now, they're out making noise about how Avaya is more powerful and stronger than ever before. They are Avaya to the power of N!

Here's an ad Avaya is running:

I laughed when I saw that. So, Nortel has been and still is a sinking ship, meaning its value is approaching 0. So what do we get from this equation? At least it isn't zero, I suppose.

Permalink: Avaya to the Power of N?

Internet Explorer Market Share Shrinks, Safari Takes Flight

December 27, 2009

While the fact that Internet Explorer's market share is shrinking is not news, what I found interesting is that November 2009 was the first time that Internet Explorer was used by fewer than 50% of the visitors to Packetizer.

Really, I'm amazed. Well, perhaps I'm not. I commented earlier that I had gotten fed up with Internet Explorer and I switched to Firefox. Still, it is amazing to watch the percentages shift like they have over the past two years. If I had time, I'd provide a graph.

So where are users going? Interestingly, users seem to be moving in two directions: Firefox and Apple's Safari. While Firefox is not a huge surprise, what was a surprise to me was that 8.3% of the visitors in November 2009 used Safari versus just 0.6% in November 2007.

Is it time I bought a Mac?

Permalink: Internet Explorer Market Share Shrinks, Safari Takes Flight

The Never-Ending Fight Against Spam

December 26, 2009

It has been a couple of years since we started implementing new spam prevention measures on Packetizer. Spam had reached such levels that it was almost impossible to read legitimate email, because individuals (including me) were receiving in excess of 600 spam messages every day. To say the least, it was insane.

We now have spam volumes reduced to a level that is manageable, perhaps allowing 10 to 20 spam messages through per day per user on the system. Of that, virtually all of it is effectively detected and filtered out as spam.

While the situation today is significantly better than where we were a couple of years ago, what concerns me is the fact that so much spam originates from "trusted networks". We operate a blacklist on Packetizer so that "repeat offenders" get blocked, but some networks are known repeat-offenders, but we simply cannot block them. Examples include Yahoo! and Hotmail. For Packetizer, those are the top two spam transmitters, with Google often right behind them (though not lately, interestingly). More troubling, though, is that they are not just a little more problematic, but significantly more problematic. But what can they do? They are web sites where anybody without an email address can quickly and easily create one: they provide a great service. Even so, there is no way to imagine how many "disposable" spam accounts get created daily on those networks.

As noted in the Packetizer News section, organizations that are supposed to be helping to fight spam are actually becoming a problem themselves. Organizations like Spamhaus, MAPS, SORBS, and UCE PROTECT have proven to be a disservice to the public to some degree this year. The reason is simply that they just block mail based on IP addresses. Packetizer does that too, but it's because there are no alternatives.

What the industry needs to do is to start implementing DKIM. Do it immediately. DKIM is not intended to be a spam prevention tool, but it can be a valuable tool nonetheless in fighting spam. If every domain owner signed messages with DKIM and required all mail transmitted from their domain to be signed, then it would be relatively easy to establish a certain level of trust in those domains. Rather than blacklisting IP addresses, we can blacklist domains. I believe this would be a better solution, because domain owners can usually be tracked down. If registrars follow the rules as required by ICANN and insist on having accurate domain registration information, it would most definitely be easier.

I am tired of receiving spam and I think it's time that we — all of us on the Internet — encourage changes that help address the problem.

Permalink: The Never-Ending Fight Against Spam

Google and SIP vs. XMPP

December 7, 2009

In the wake of Google's acquisition of Gizmo5, Tsahi Levent-Levi raises some good questions and made some excellent points in his blog posting on protocol interworking and the pain it introduces. Like many others, I have an opinion on this.

Google needs a way to interwork with the SIP-enabled gateways and SBCs, but SIP really isn't in line with its web strategy. XMPP, on the other hand, is since it utilizes XML and has interfaces like BOSH that allow one to get presence information and even do IM via the web browser.

Most people who know me are well-aware of my opinion of SIP: it is a nice client-server protocol for voice and video, but it falls significantly short trying to do anything more than that. SIP was initially intended to be a light-weight protocol that breaks away from the traditional telephony model, but has in fact fallen into the trap of replicating the PSTN over IP, implementing much of what was in the PSTN world and behaving like a traditional telephony protocol. It is not the web-centric, simple, light-weight protocol it was supposed to be: it is quite the opposite.

XMPP is web-centric in many ways and is very flexible. Heck, they are building things like Google Wave on top of that infrastructure! So, it makes a lot of sense trying to use XMPP in the core and pushing SIP to the edges for interworking with the rest of the world.

That said, perhaps Google has come to the realization that few have implemented Jingle and their plans are to marry SIP + XMPP into a single client. I can imagine IM and presence functions being handled by the XMPP side and SIP used for voice/video.

That makes sense for GoogleTalk, but what about the Google's Chrome OS? What kind of voice/video support will be available there? The only way to do that is via some plug-in to get voice/video capabilities from JavaScript, but perhaps that's exactly what they'll do.

Long-term, I agree they would be best-served by having a single protocol, but SIP cannot be it: it lacks the web-centric capabilities that Google needs to enable richer forms of communication available via XMPP.

Permalink: Google and SIP vs. XMPP

Enough is Enough: Internet Explorer is Out

October 6, 2009

I've been a long-time fan of Internet Explorer. Really, I have. While people have been praising Firefox, Opera, and other browsers for years, touting how they are more standards-compliant than IE, I continued to use Internet Explorer. I actually liked the browser. While it has its deficiencies, most of those deficiencies are not visible to the end-user: they are just painful issues that developers have to deal with.

As a developer, I have a certain appreciation for the cool, geeky features in Firefox. As an end-user, I like what Internet Explorer has to offer: a simple browser that works on most all web sites, because it's the dominant browser and everybody has to make their sites work with IE. When Internet Explorer 8 came out, I really felt like it was a great step forward. It was more standards-compliant than before and there were a number of good features added. I particularly appreciated the strong support for RSS and Atom feeds: it is significantly better than what Firefox has to offer.

Alas, though, I've decided to dump Internet Explorer. I do not know what Microsoft did with IE8, but the browser seems to freeze a lot. I do not mean that it crashes. Rather, it freezes for a while thinking deep thoughts, I suppose, and then resumes after a while. Sometimes, I would just open a different IE instance and visit a different web site while I waited on IE to wake up. The pages that caused the biggest problems were those that were extremely long or had a significant number of hyperlinks.

So, I dumped Internet Explorer. It is still on my machine, but I have now converted to Firefox. Firefox 3.5 has thus far proven to be extremely stable and has absolutely no problem with the web pages that present Internet Explorer with so many challenges. I do wish Firefox had better integrated RSS/Atom support, but I'll gladly trade that for the stability and robustness I do not get with Internet Explorer.

Permalink: Enough is Enough: Internet Explorer is Out

Using Vim to Convert HTML Tags from Uppercase to Lowercase

September 3, 2009

Sometimes, a good tip is worth sharing. As I was making some edits to some HTML pages using Vim, I wanted to find a quick way to convert uppercase tag and attribute names to lowercase. I found this tip somewhere on the Internet and it worked so well, I thought it might be worth repeating.

To convert HTML tags from uppercase to lowercase, use this command in Vim:

%s/<\/\?\zs\(\w\+\)\ze[ >]/\L\1/g

To convert HTML attributes from uppercase to lowercase, use this command in Vim:

%s/\(<[^>]*\)\@<=\<\(\a*\)\ze=['"]/\L\2/g

Permalink: Using Vim to Convert HTML Tags from Uppercase to Lowercase

XML Paper Specification (XPS) was approved as a standard

August 10, 2009

Perhaps I am a bit late to the party, but I just learned that Microsoft's XML Paper Specification was standardized by ECMA as a new standard (ECMA-388) on June 16, 2009.

XPS seems to be an important printing technology for Microsoft and has been adopted by quite a number of hardware and software makers. Native XPS support has already been introduced by some printer manufacturers, for example. This makes it great for taking documents directly from the PC to the printer, perhaps something that needed improvement? I don't know. I thought my documents printed perfectly well before.

What makes this so interesting to me is that XPS is a direct competitor to Adobe's PDF format. The next big question is which of these two competing formats will be the winner, or will we have many years ahead where both formats will be common? I write a lot of documents that I need to share with others. PDF has been the standard for a very long time now, but XPS looks very promising. With XPS support built directly into Windows Vista and Windows 7, will it be easier to send around XPS documents rather than PDF documents?

The tools are also important to the success of XPS. Microsoft Office 2007 has excellent support for both PDF and XPS, but other products lack PDF support. With the XPS "printer driver" on Windows, I can easily create XPS documents from any application, and I do. Sometimes, XPS wins only for that reason. But, that is the best thing I can say for XPS, to be frank. I've used the XPS viewer in Internet Explorer and also the stand-alone XPS viewer from Microsoft. Adobe Acrobat Reader really looks and works much nicer than Microsoft's XPS viewers. I hope they consider making some serious improvements. It would be nice to open a document that fits the width of the viewer window. I'd also like to have the XPS viewer remember its position on the screen after I close it. It reminds me a lot of my first "Hello, World!" program on Windows in the way that it opens.

Permalink: XML Paper Specification (XPS) was approved as a standard

Internet Explorer 8's Compatibility List

July 11, 2009

While the browser wars seemed to have picked up again and a lot of technically-oriented people have moved over to Firefox, I've noted that Packetizer still gets a large number of visitors using Microsoft Internet Explorer. And, I'll confess that I also use IE. I really like it, and I appreciate some of the cool new additions in Internet Explorer 8.

That said, there is one feature I absolutely despise: the Compatibility Views feature. If you use Internet Explorer 8, you will note that for many sites you visit, there is an icon at the top of the browser that allows you to select which mode in which to view the site. I found that feature to be terribly confusing and the button was right beside the refresh button, so I often pressed the wrong one.

Not having found a way to get packetizer.com added to Microsoft's compatibility list, I finally decided to figure out how to get rid of that button on IE. I think there is a menu option somewhere to disable it, but I wanted a solution that worked for all visitors to Packetizer. After all, the site should work with Firefox and IE8 and if it does not, people will tell us!

So, I did some searching and found that Microsoft allows control of this feature through an HTTP header. This did the trick for Apache:

BrowserMatch "MSIE 8" IE8_support
Header set X-UA-Compatible "IE=8" env=IE8_support

I hope other site administrators will also turn off this very annoying feature in Internet Explorer 8, once they have verified that their sites work. I hate accidentally pressing that button!

Permalink: Internet Explorer 8's Compatibility List

Wave Goodbye to Email

June 2, 2009

Last week, Google introduced a technology called Google Wave. It is a communication platform that will allow users to communicate, much like they can with email. But, it is significantly different than email in the way discussions take place. A "wave" can be significantly more dynamic than email messages. Plus, the technology allows one to integrate a messaging platform with blogs, Twitter, or just about any other information source on the Internet.

All that sounds interesting, but what really caught my attention was the fact that Google is not just building a platform that it runs in-house and users around the Internet use. Rather, what got me really excited is that Google is building a system that fully federates with domains around the world. Anybody can run a wave server, much like they run an email server today.

The way inter-domain federation is enabled is by building on open standards like XMPP. By using XMPP, they are able to have members of a wave who exist in any number of domains. Those users are then able to communicate in real-time through the wave. And when I say real-time, that is what I mean: as you edit a wave, the other users who are a part of the wave can see your edits as they are made.

This is definitely the first messaging platform that I have seen that truly embraces the capabilities enabled by the web. It might take a few years for this technology to take off, but I do believe it has a real potential to displace email as the primary mode of communication in the future. It's really awesome.

Be sure to check out the video Google made where they unveiled Google Wave for the first time. It was given at the developer's conference, but you do not need to be a software engineer to see the power and flexibility of this new messaging paradigm.

Permalink: Wave Goodbye to Email

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Paul E. Jones

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