Programming

Commerce Weekly: PayPal marches toward ubiquity

New PayPal partners, mobile wallet disruption may hinge on Apple, and prioritizing mobile in a "lukewarm" market.

Here are a few stories that caught my attention in the commerce space this week.

PayPal expands its footprint with new partners

PayPal JambaJuice AppPayPal announced this week it has expanded its U.S. footprint to include 23 new partners for its PayPal in-store payments service, in addition to the 15 national partners announced last May, making its service available in 18,000 physical store locations across the country.

According to a post on the PayPal blog, new retail partners include Barnes & Noble, Office Depot, Foot Locker and Jamba Juice, and “two additional partners that [they] will share publicly soon.”

The deal PayPal struck with Jamba Juice goes beyond the in-store payments service that allows customers to pay with their phone number and a pin, or by using their PayPal payment card. Chloe Albanesius reports at PCMag that PayPal is testing its PayPal App in one Jamba Juice location to allow customers to place and pay for their orders, so when they arrive at the location, they just have to pick up their smoothie.

Global product VP Hill Ferguson notes in a post at the PayPal blog, that the feature is available only for iPhone users at this point and that there are plans to expand to more Jamba Juice locations this year.

In addition to its announcement of new retail partners, PayPal also announced a new hardware partner. Sarah Perez reports at TechCrunch that PayPal is “also partnering with point-of-sale and hardware maker NCR to expand into restaurants, as well as into other businesses, including gas stations and convenience stores.”

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Commerce Weekly: Isis Wallet/NFC payments struggle for a foothold

Cashwrap brings Isis to iPhone, Target's price match goes year-round, and Shopgate makes products the point of sale.

Here are a few stories that caught my attention in the commerce space this week.

NFC-enabled Cashwrap case equips iPhone with Isis

At the 2013 International CES this week, Incipio and AT&T announced the launch of Cashwrap, an NFC-enabled iPhone case that equips iPhones with the Isis Wallet, currently only available for NFC-compatible Android phones. According to a post at 9to5Mac, the case will be available in March and will cost $59.99 to $69.99.

9to5Mac shot a short video of the product from the CES show floor (the Cashwrap representative mistakenly indicates the case will support iPhone 5 — at launch, it will support iPhone 4 and 4S):

When Isis launched in October, some questioned the viability of the payment platform and whether or not it was addressing a real problem. In a report at Consumer Reports, Jeff Blyskal concluded: “Isis, like Google Wallet, still seems to require a lot of work and needless complexity for the questionable convenience of paying by cell phone.” Now, on top of the complexity and questionable convenience of NFC payment, iPhone users must not only attach an appendage to the phone, but fork over a not-so-insignificant amount of cash — all for a payment platform that’s only available in Salt Lake City and Austin, and only at select retailers.

At Telecoms.com, Elliott Holley covered a recent report by financial research firm Celent that says the issues NFC payment technology has faced thus far are only going to be compounded in 2013 and that NFC payment solutions will be overshadowed — perhaps ultimately replaced — by cloud-based wallets. Celent senior analyst and author of the report Zilvanas Bareisis told Holley that not only is using the technology still much more difficult than swiping a credit card, but in markets such as the U.S., “the infrastructure bill is huge and convincing retailers and merchants is difficult.”

Holley highlights a key insight from the Celent report:

“Part of the problem for NFC digital wallets is that while the physical POS world is dominated by cards and the mobile equivalent is to have payment credentials inside the phone and sent to the POS via NFC, the online world is dominated by cloud-based wallets such as PayPal. That makes it difficult to bridge the online-offline convergence of customers who use their mobiles while shopping to read product reviews, compare prices and order online, or pick up an item from a local store, according to Celent.”

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Commerce Weekly: iPhone NFC rumors return

Apple may yet embrace NFC, mobile shopping isn't a fad, and will the mobile wallet battle come to a head in 2013?

Happy new year! Here are a few stories that caught my attention in the commerce space recently.

Apple NFC rumors revived

PassbookiPhoneWe’ve no sooner outfitted our shiny new iPhone 5s with cases and fancy accessories than rumors of the iPhone 6 have emerged. Matt Brian reports at The Next Web that “Apple has been testing hardware relating to a new ‘iPhone6,1′ identifier, powered by a device running iOS 7.”

There’s also renewed rumors of Apple’s intention to integrate NFC technology into the next iPhone. Mikey Campbell reports at Apple Insider that on December 20, 2012, the US Patent and Trademark Office published a patent application filed by Apple in 2011 “for an ‘Integrated coupon storage, discovery, and redemption system,’ a property covering the receipt, storage and use of digital coupons on mobile device” — basically, what Passbook became this past year. Campbell notes that NFC capabilities also are mentioned in connection with coupon redemption, indicating “that the company is at least thinking about including the protocol in future versions of the iPhone or iPod Touch.”

Joann Pan at Mashable notes the implications such integrated technology could have on retail shopping for consumers and merchants alike. She writes:

“With Apple’s proposed ‘integrated coupon storage,’ patrons will be able to walk into stores and receive notifications about items for which they have coupons. After the transaction is complete, the customer will receive a digital receipt wirelessly. Alerts will also be pushed for coupons with impending expiration dates. The patent also mentions a verification system for coupons and discounts.”

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New school C

Why C is a more practical and enticing programming language than you might think.

Choosing a programming language for that project you’re working on is a fairly straightforward decision: it needs to be fast, easy to use, and it must come with enough bells and whistles to keep you from re-inventing the wheel every time you want to do something.

Looking at this criteria, aside from the fast bit, the C language may not be the first one that pops into your head. After sitting down with Ben Klemens, the author of 21st Century C, I am now looking at C as a more practical and enticing alternative than I would have thought possible.

21st Century C sets a precedent in presenting C as a language that is a lot easier to use, and has more library support than many people think. If you are not up to date on the latest that C has to offer you may not be aware of the simplicity and elegance of the language. These strengths are backed by the C99 and C11 standards, but mainly they are built up on the development of libraries and modern tools for building and multi-threading in C. Read more…

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Commerce Weekly: Predicting 2013

Industry executives predict commerce trends, mobile shoppers are Apple users, and the genius of the barcode.

Here are a few stories that caught my attention in the commerce space this week.

Predicting the 2013 commerce space

As 2012 wraps up, industry executives are looking ahead to what 2013 might bring. In a report at eCommerceBytes, executives at e-commerce and Internet service company Rakuten pulled together five trends to watch in 2013, including increased use of video on e-commerce sites; a market shift toward specialized retailers, both brick-and-mortar and online; and the advent of curated commerce, or “shopping for a lifestyle” as opposed to shopping for individual items.

Executives also highlighted mobile integrations, noting that they expect an increase in in-store integration via apps, QR codes and augmented reality. Predicted trends also included a change in the way consumers pay: “Services like PayPal and Apple’s iTunes have already begun to centralize payments on mobile, but the next step will be services such as Square that offer sellers the ability to receive card payments with their existing smartphone and a simple plug-in device,” the report says.

PayPal president David Marcus also took a look ahead. He sees cash registers going mobile, with customers able to pay from the store aisle or even the changing room, and predicts location-aware and context-relevent shopping and payments will be more disruptive than many now expect. In the payment space, he sees mobile wallets, consumer loyalty programs and coupon platforms merging into one efficient and convenient business. He also predicts NFC will die a slow death in 2013: “it’s not solving a real consumer problem,” he writes at the PayPal blog, “and it’s not providing additional value to encourage me (or anyone else, for that matter) to change my behavior.”

In related news, Square COO Keith Rabois pulled together some predictions for what consumers and retailers can expect from Square in 2013. In an interview with CNET’s Daniel Terdiman, Rabois said Starbucks’ customers haven’t seen anything yet, that they can “expect full Square Wallet functionality” in 2013 as well as new features and “major enhancements” — Rabois said Square’s partnership with Starbucks is in its “first inning.”

Rabois noted, however, that Square is just the beginning, that “anything new that’s developed in the coming months will also be rolled out for use at every single merchant that’s part of the Square Wallet program” and that additional retail partnership announcements can be expected in the coming year. Looking further ahead? “Rabois said that the company envisions Square Wallet working ‘everywhere,’” Terdiman reports, “from personal trainers to interactions between friends to contractors working people’s homes.”

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LISA mixes the ancient and modern: report from USENIX system administration conference

System administrators try to maintain reliability and other virtues while adopting cost-cutting innovations

I came to LISA, the classic USENIX conference, to find out this year who was using such advanced techniques as cloud computing, continuous integration, non-relational databases, and IPv6. I found lots of evidence of those technologies in action, but also had the bracing experience of getting stuck in a talk with dozens of Solaris fans.

Such is the confluence of old and new at LISA. I also heard of the continued relevance of magnetic tape–its storage costs are orders of magnitude below those of disks–and of new developements on NFS. Think of NFS as a protocol, not a filesystem: it can now connect many different filesystems, including the favorites of modern distributed system users.

LISA, and the USENIX organization that valiantly unveils it each year, are communities at least as resilient as the systems that their adherents spend their lives humming. Familiar speakers return each year. Members crowd a conference room in the evening to pepper the staff with questions about organizational issues. Attendees exchange their t-shirts for tuxes to attend a three-hour reception aboard a boat on the San Diego harbor, which this time was experiencing unseasonably brisk weather. (Full disclosure: I skipped the reception and wrote this article instead.) Let no one claim that computer administrators are anti-social.

Again in the spirit of full disclosure, let me admit that I perform several key operations on a Solaris system. When it goes away (which someday it will), I’ll have to alter some workflows.

The continued resilience of LISA

Conferences, like books, have a hard go of it in the age of instant online information. I wasn’t around in the days when people would attend conferences to exchange magnetic tapes with their free software, but I remember the days when companies would plan their releases to occur on the first day of a conference and would make major announcements there. The tradition of using conferences to propel technical innovation is not dead; for instance, OpenStack was announced at an O’Reilly Open Source convention.

But as pointed out by Thomas Limoncelli, an O’Reilly author (Time Management for System Administrators) and a very popular LISA speaker, the Internet has altered the equation for product announcements in two profound ways. First of all, companies and open source projects can achieve notoriety in other ways without leveraging conferences. Second, and more subtly, the philosophy of “release early, release often” launches new features multiple times a year and reduces the impact of major versions. The conferences need a different justification.

Limoncelli says that LISA has survived by getting known as the place you can get training that you can get nowhere else. “You can learn about a tool from the person who created the tool,” he says. Indeed, at the BOFs it was impressive to hear the creator of a major open source tool reveal his plans for a major overhaul that would permit plugin modules. It was sobering though to hear him complain about a lack of funds to do the job, and discuss with the audience some options for getting financial support.

LISA is not only a conference for the recognized stars of computing, but a place to show off students who can create a complete user administration interface in their spare time, or design a generalized extension of common Unix tools (grep, diff, and so forth) that work on structured blocks of text instead of individual lines.

Another long-time attendee told me that companies don’t expect anyone here to whip out a checkbook in the exhibition hall, but they still come. They have a valuable chance at LISA to talk to people who don’t have direct purchasing authority but possess the technical expertise to explain to their bosses the importance of new products. LISA is also a place where people can delve as deep as the please into technical discussions of products.

I noticed good attendance at vendor-sponsored Bird-of-a-Feather sessions, even those lacking beer. For instance, two Ceph staff signed up for a BOF at 10 in the evening, and were surprised to see over 30 attendees. It was in my mind a perfect BOF. The audience talked more than the speakers, and the speakers asked questions as well as delivering answers.

But many BOFs didn’t fit the casual format I used to know. Often, the leader turned up with a full set of slides and took up a full hour going through a list of new features. There were still audience comments, but no more than at a conference session.

Memorable keynotes

One undeniable highlight of LISA was the keynote by Internet pioneer Vint Cerf. After years in Washington, DC, Cerf took visible pleasure in geeking out with people who could understand the technical implications of the movements he likes to track. His talk ranged from the depth of his wine cellar (which he is gradually outfitting with sensors for quality and security) to interplanetary travel.

The early part of his talk danced over general topics that I think were already adequately understood by his audience, such as the value of DNSSEC. But he often raised useful issues for further consideration, such as who will manage the billions of devices that will be attached to the Internet over the next few years. It can be useful to delegate read access and even write access (to change device state) to a third party when the device owner is unavailable. In trying to imagine a model for sets of device, Cerf suggested the familiar Internet concept of an autonomous system, which obviously has scaled well and allowed us to distinguish routers running different protocols.

The smart grid (for electricity) is another concern of Cerf’s. While he acknowledged known issues of security and privacy, he suggested that the biggest problem will be the classic problem of coordinated distributed systems. In an environment where individual homes come and go off the grid, adding energy to it along with removing energy, it will be hard to predict what people need and produce just the right amount at any time. One strategy involves microgrids: letting neighborhoods manage their own energy needs to avoid letting failures cascade through a large geographic area.

Cerf did not omit to warn us of the current stumbling efforts in the UN to institute more governance for the Internet. He acknowledged that abuse of the Internet is a problem, but said the ITU needs an “excuse to continue” as radio, TV, etc. migrate to the Internet and the ITU’s standards see decreasing relevance.

Cerf also touted the Digital Vellum project for the preservation of data and software. He suggested that we need a legal framework that would require software developers to provide enough information for people to continue getting access to their own documents as old formats and software are replaced. “If we don’t do this,” he warned, “our 22nd-century descendants won’t know much about us.”

Talking about OpenFlow and Software Defined Networking, he found its most exciting opportunity is to let us use content to direct network traffic in addition to, or instead of, addresses.

Another fine keynote was delivered by Matt Blaze on a project he and colleagues conducted to assess the security of the P25 mobile systems used everywhere by security forces, including local police and fire departments, soldiers in the field, FBI and CIA staff conducting surveillance, and executive bodyguards. Ironically, there are so many problems with these communication systems that the talk was disappointing.

I should in no way diminish the intelligence and care invested by these researchers from the University of Pennsylvania. It’s just the history of P25 makes security lapses seem inevitable. Because it was old, and was designed to accommodate devices that were even older, it failed to implement basic technologies such as asymmetric encryption that we now take for granted. Furthermore, most of the users of these devices are more concerned with getting messages to their intended destinations (so that personnel can respond to an emergency) than in preventing potential enemies from gaining access. Putting all this together, instead of saying “What impressive research,” we tend to say, “What else would you expect?”

Random insights

Attendees certainly had their choice of virtualization and cloud solutions at the conference. A very basic introduction to OpenStack was offered, along with another by developers of CloudStack. Although the latter is older and more settled, it is losing the battle of mindshare. One developer explained that CloudStack has a smaller scope than OpenStack, because CloudStack is focused on high-computing environments. However, he claimed, CloudStack works on really huge deployments where he hasn’t seen other successful solutions. Yet another open source virtuallization platform presented was Google’s Ganeti.

I also attended talks and had chats with developers working on the latest generation of data stores: massive distributed file systems like Hadoop’s HDFS, and high-performance tools such as HBase and Impala, for accessing the data it stores. There seems be accordion effect in data stores: developers start with simple flat or key-value structures. Then they find the need over time–depending on their particular applications–for more hierarchy or delimited data, and either make their data stores more heavyweight or jerry-rig the structure through conventions such as defining fields for certain purposes. Finally we’re back at something mimicking the features of a relational database, and someone rebels and starts another bare-bones project.

One such developer told me hoped his project never turns into a behemoth like CORBA or (lamentably) what WS-* specifications seem to have wrought.

CORBA is universally recognized as dead–perhaps stillborn, because I never heard of major systems deployed in production. In fact, I never knew of an implementation that caught up with the constant new layers of complexity thrown on by the standards committee.

In contrast, WS-* specifications teeter on the edge of acceptability, as a number of organizations swear by it.

I pointed out to my colleague that most modern cloud or PC systems are unlikely to suffer from the weight of CORBA or WS-*, because the latter two systems were created for environments without trust. They were meant to tie together organizations with conflicting goals, and were designed by consortia of large vendors jockeying for market share. For both of these reasons, they have to negotiate all sorts of parameters and add many assurances to every communication.

Recently we’ve seen an increase of interest in functional programming. It occurred to me this week that many aspects of functional programming go nicely with virtualization and the cloud. When you write code with no side effects and no global lack of state, you can recover more easily when instances of your servers disappear. It’s fascinating to see how technologies coming from many different places push each other forward–and sometimes hold each other back.

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