Saturday, April 21, 2012

RIP Chumby

Today I am taking a short break from the Scrum for SharePoint series to cover another topic near and dear to my heart.

Insignia Infocast 3.5"
The Insignia Infocast 3.5 by Best Buy
(similar to the Chumby One).
Way back in the mid-2000s, before we had the iPhone or Android or even webOS, a little company named Chumby appeared on the scene with a neat gadget that was going to replace your clock radio with something much cooler. Prototypes of the Chumby came out in 2006 and 2007, and the first widely-available consumer version was released in 2008. I was very excited to see the Chumby appear on the scene, in part because I was sad that the 3Com (Palm) Audrey had failed so miserably back in 2000.

It's hard to remember, but back in 2008, there was not much out there like the Chumby. The iPhone and Android operating systems were relatively new and still gaining traction. There were zero consumer grade tablets available on the market. Even with the iPhone and Android out there, they were geared towards phone devices. There were definitely no clock radio gadgets to compete with Chumby. So theoretically, the Chumby had a good chance to succeed.

The Chumby is not a tablet and it is not a phone or iPod-like device. It really has no equivalent out there in the world. It is first and foremost an internet clock radio. Think of your old Sony Dream Machine, add in the likes of Pandora and Shoutcast internet music and podcast services, and add the ability to change the clock face to one of hundreds of different options. That is a Chumby.

There are other things a Chumby can do, like display news feeds, Facebook, Twitter, internet web cams, and more. Yet at its core, the Chumby is a clock radio that can get live content from the internet.

Sony Dash
My boys really enjoy the Sony Dash. We have it
in our dining room.
I bought a Chumby One for my dad in 2009. At first, he didn't know what to do with it, but over time he came to appreciate the different clocks faces to choose from and its ability to play Pandora and other internet music services.

I got my first "Chumby" in 2010 when I picked up a Sony Dash for a relatively good price. However, even though I got a "deal" at the time, price was one of Chumby's downfalls: the Dash list price was $200 at the time--I think I got my for a "steep discount" at $150--and the Chumby-branded units were not much cheaper.

The Dash was a step up from the Chumby, as it had internet video as well. You could (and can still) get Netflix, YouTube and Hulu Plus video, among other choices. So it was worth a slight premium over the much smaller Chumby One (3.5" screen vs. 7" screen), but still a bit expensive for what you got.

Bathroom media station
We have installed the Insignia Infocast 3.5 in our master
bathroom media station.
Later in 2010 I picked up Best Buy's Insignia branded version of the Chumby One, the Infocast 3.5. This time I got it for under $45 and had a $25 gift card to boot. Now that was a deal. Under $50 would have been the perfect price point to allow the Chumby to be more successful.

Alas, regular prices didn't get much lower than $100, most people didn't understand why they needed one in addition to their iPhones and iPads, and therefore not many units were sold. In 2011 Sony stopped making the Dash. Around that time Best Buy also stopped making the Infocast line. Later in the year, Chumby itself stopped making hardware as well, leaving the Chumby platform flailing around a little bit without much support. The company said they were going to focus on a connected TV platform, but nothing much came of it.

Just the other day, Chumby announced that the whole team had moved on to new things at Technicolor and that there was no one left at Chumby to turn the lights off.

The Chumby network is still up and running--for now--but much like what happened to services like ReplayTV, it could be shut off at any time. This leads to one of my ongoing concerns with this particular platform: it is 100% dependent on having a network connection to work at all. Without a WiFi or optional Ethernet connection, a Chumby is essentially worthless. There isn't even a way to boot up a Chumby in to a disconnected mode. The thing just stops at the "Connecting to Network" screen and gives up.

(As an aside, there are some ways to run some Chumby devices offline. One example is: Zurk's Chumby One/Infocast 3.5 firmware and Zurk's Infocast/Chumby 8 firmware.)

Another issue was the app platform: all Chumby apps were free and had to be build on the Adobe Flash platform. While that worked well enough for the most part, there are two issues with it: no way for developers to make any money, and somewhat limiting of a platform. The Chumby is based on a modified Linux kernel, but won't run regular Linux or Android apps without major modifications. So it's a relatively closed platform.

I guess even back in 2008 we could see the writing on the wall, but I still had high hopes that a device dedicated to being an internet clock radio could survive. I still think there is a place for a Chumby-like device, with some tweaks to the platform. Using a phone or tablet as a stationary clock or radio is not always practical or economical. Sure, as an individual I can use my Android phone as an alarm or an iPad as a Pandora music player, but what about family or group situations? Sometimes a dedicated device is useful.

Maybe something else will come about to take Chumby's place? Or Chumby will get picked up by another company and the legacy will continue? I can only hope.

UPDATE: Chumby is dead. Long live Chumby!

Sunday, April 08, 2012

Scrum for SharePoint: Sprint 0

Before I get into the rest of the Scrum for SharePoint Article Backlog, I wanted to take a moment to talk about what happens at the beginning. It is always important to start things out right, and a Scrum-based SharePoint project is no different.

This is an example of being Agile, right? I am reordering the Article Backlog based on new priority from the Blog Owner (me) and working on the top priority item first, just like we would do in Scrum.

As with everything, how a projects starts will vary based on the project and your particular environment. "It depends." I want to document some ways of handling Scrum for SharePoint and see what sticks. In fact, I am looking for your experiences, good and bad, for different ways for starting up a Scrum project that is building out a SharePoint site, application, or an entire farm.

Many questions come up at the beginning of an Agile Scrum project. In particular: When are we going to have time to set everything up? Good question. If you start your first Sprint developing against the Product Backlog but don't have a development/test and/or production infrastructure in place yet, what do you do?

Scrum is designed to be iterative, which means you have a Product Backlog of functionality that needs to be built, which may change over time, but there is no set project plan. Each Sprint takes a piece of that Product Backlog and builds it out within a certain time box. I'll explain more in future posts. For now, just know that a Sprint is between 2-4 weeks and is focused on developing a certain set of features. The list of items in the backlog changes as priorities change, but once a Sprint starts the priorities for that Sprint are set.

It is possible to build time in to each Sprint to handle infrastructure changes and additions. Even for environments that already exist, you are going to need time to adjust them to fit the needs of the project and Product Backlog. In fact, much of the infrastructure work may be totally outside the Scrum process. Infrastructure, in my opinion, makes a lot more sense as a waterfall project. That said, the development team may still need to be part of the process and it might be too much to ask them to do a lot of infrastructure and development environment work alongside actual development. Which is why I think it's good to start out with something in place before any development begins at all.

If no infrastructure exists—say you are building a brand new SharePoint farm or planning to migrate content from an older version of SharePoint—then more work needs to be done so the development team can hit the ground running at Sprint 1. Do not assume that the team will have time to set things up once they are working on user stories and committing to a certain amount of velocity for each sprint. While velocity can be adjusted to fit in time for administrative or overhead tasks, or user stories can be created to work on infrastructure things (is this even a good idea?), the team's focus will be on building out functionality and it will required a concerted effort to work on anything outside of development.

For environments that already have a full or partial SharePoint infrastructure, the job is much easier but there is still work to do. You need developer environments, a development/build server, a test infrastructure, and stuff like source control and something to manage the Agile process (SharePoint, maybe?). Things will go much smoother if they already exist or there is time to set these up before tackling the product backlog.

I guess my point is that while Scrum for SharePoint can be Agile, you still need to consider the foundation of the project team's resources before any development work begins.

In addition to infrastructure and development resources, the beginning of a Scrum project may also include an assessment of the initial Product Backlog, some agreement on initial team process, and maybe a cursory attempt at an overall architecture. Yes I said there might be some design before you start. Does that go against Agile? More on these topics in future posts.

So, what do you do before starting your Scrum for SharePoint projects?

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