Linux vs Microsoft in Countries

IDG writes about the status in various countries on the Linux-Microsoft battle: “Government officials the world over are getting drawn into the debate over the relative merits of using open source software rather than Microsoft Corp.’s Windows applications and other software developed by vendors who closely guard the intellectual property of their source code. Some countries, such as Germany, have decided to replace Windows and other commercial software products with open source applications. Other countries remain committed to commercial software, and yet others are straddling the fence.”

There is really no excuse for low-income countries to use Microsoft software. This is the opportunity has — on desktops and servers for the next set of users.

Also see: Slashdot discussion

Hot Portals


Companies are opening their wallets to portal software because it can improve employee productivity and, in the long run, cut costs, analysts and technology buyers said. As an added bonus, increased competition among software makers has spurred a price war that could uncover some bargains for buyers.

Unlike most business application software, which tends to add complexity to internal computing infrastructures, portal software is designed to simplify. The software lets companies create Web pages, or portals, for their employees, customers or business partners. The benefit? One-stop access through a single Web page to vital information stored in a mishmash of dissimilar e-mail programs, human resources systems and sales databases.

This is what Emergic’s Digital Dashboard will do: by combining Blogs, Outlines and RSS Aggregation. I will be writing more on this in my Tech Talk column next week.


Recently, we added the Search feature to Emergic. A few more things I’d like to do in the coming few days to enhance the weblog and increase its navigability:

– Add RSS NewsFeeds (headlines) on the Top Page to provide context of what’s happening in the world. Its an idea I have learnt from Samachar. There is a lot of value in providing an aggregate on a single page. Initially, we will begin with feeds from Moreover, but later we’ll go direct to the sources. The three sub-segments will be Emerging Technologies, Emerging Enterprises and Emerging Markets. Here’s a initial version. Its currently on a separate page. We need to put it on the home page and the Archives page (related to the date, so there’s a memory built in of the day’s top stories).

– Show comments in-place with the blog post: people don’t like clicking once more to read the comment. Also, by adding comments in place, they’ll also get indexed for search.

– Outlines on the Month Pages: the Month pages (for May and June) carry all the posts. What I really want is a listing and abstract of the posts, with a link to the actual post. Need to be able to scan dozens of titles quickly. We have written an Outline Web Service which we should use for this.

– Recent Entries links need to be to the Permalink and not the date.

– Integration with an RSS Aggregator: we are checking out a few RSS aggregators. Need to combine so I can post directly from the Aggregator, the way Radio does. This will dramatically improve my information processing speed.

– The RSS feed which gets put out currently takes 50 words. Need to change that so it takes 1-2 sentences. The 50-word limit means it gets cut midway in a sentence which looks bad.

– Give each post a unique name (the “a name” rather than the 6-digit ID which is currently being generated).

– Upload all my earlier writings from 1995 on the blog (or perhaps start a separate one under Currently, my writings are spread across Samachar, IndiaLine and Google’s archives. They need to be consolidated in one place under my control. Just for posterity’s sake.

– Relook at the Blog Daily concept I had…its a good idea.

– See how to leverage referers and backlinks. Am not using this info at all right now.
Basically, the idea is to create a “next-generation blog”.

Comment from John Robb

I got a comment from one of the people I respect deeply (he’s #3 on my BlogRoll) and who probably doesn’t know that because I haven’t ever told him that (and neither have I met him). He is John Robb of Userland. John’s weblog is a daily must-read for me, for his incredibly thoughful (and thought-provoking) postings. John has been advocating the concept of K-Logs for quite some time, and I like it very much. So much so, that it’s going to be one of the key pillars of Emergic as part of the Digital Dashboard.

John wrote in on the RSS post. His comment:


Nice post on aggregators (this is a big reason to have the software on the desktop). It is also possible to have most business apps produce an RSS feed on sales, inventory, etc. data.

You should join the K-Logs group on Yahoo (if you haven’t already).

John, you made my day! And yes, I am a member of the K-Logs group though I haven’t posted there yet.

Regarding the software on the desktop point, our viewpoints are different because our target markets are different. Your audience is the hundreds of millions of existing users who have thick desktops and are primarily in the developed markets of the world. They need Radio on the desktop. My target are the hundreds of millions of new users who cannot pay for the thick desktops — they need computers and software at a tenth of the prices that they are available at today. These emerging set of users (the next 500 million) are in the world’s low-income countries, the developing markets of the world. Emergic is all about making computing affordable to them. They will use Thin Clients (second-hand/used computers) with Thick Servers. But we need to make the latest software available to them — they too want to become real-time enterprises.

These are the themes I write about here in and Tech Samachar.

Thick Server at ISPs?

One idea which came up as I was discussing the Emergic ideas with a business partner recently was putting the Thick Server(TS) at ISPs. My initial reaction was No, thats like the ASP thing — we want the TS on the LAN. But, as the partner explained, the speed offered by an ISP who is using Cable or Ethernet (or in future, even 802.11b) for last-mile access is 10 Mbps or more to the ISP premises. This is just like a LAN. Beyond the ISP of course the speed goes down quite a lot (to the Internet). But if the Thick Server can be remoted to the ISP, then the Thin Client (TC) can be placed at many more locations which previously we had not thought.

For example, the TC-TS can be used to offer applications in a residential access — the individual apartments are being wired for Internet access, but where’s the device to connect to the Internet? The PC is still too expensive for most people. Also, shopkeepers could be connected in a chain to the TS at the ISP. It again goes back to the basic theme of Emergic: providing computing solutions to new users. The price-point of Rs 750-1,000 per month (USD 15-20) for hardware, software, training and support is unmatchable and opens up segments which hitherto haven’t been imagined.

The key of course here (besides the attractive price point) is the sharing of the Thick Server across multiple Thin Clients. This becomes possible because of the LAN-like speeds (10 Mbps) for the last hundred feet.

Thin Client – Migrating Mail

Have been using a Thin Client (on my 2+ year Fujitsu notebook) for the past few days. The bottleneck on the complete switchover was migrating my Mails and Address Book to the Thick Server. I had been using Outlook Express for the past few years and had accumulated 1 GB of old emails and a 1000+ address book. To move the mails, we created first an IMAP account for me on the Thick Server. Then, we imported my Outlook Express mails and address book into Outlook under Windows. Final step was moving the folders from Outlook to the IMAP accout on the Thick Server in Outlook.

The address book was a bit more complicated as we had to write a few utilities to convert from the Outlook Express format to the one Evolution needed. All that is now left is another 1 GB of mails in another “identity” on Outlook Express (these are mails from 1.5 years and more ago, which I rarely refer to). We will do that in the near future also.

The Thin Client overall works fine — I mainly use the Browser (Mozilla) and Mail Client (Evolution). We still need to iron out some server stability issues, but thats to be expected. The key challenge was to move a person like me who had become quite used to Windows in the last 3 years (had earlier been using Linux and Unix before that). Come to think of it, the transition is quite easy provided one has an open mind.

These are early days, and I’ll need to see how OpenOffice shapes up. But I think the hard part (migrating the mails) has been done.

TECH TALK: Rethinking Enterprise Software: The Solution Framework

The four key trends we discussed in the past few columns were:

  1. New markets (small and medium enterprises in emerging markets)
  2. Emerging standards for software and business processes
  3. The (near) real-time, extended enterprise
  4. A new technology infrastructure

There are four key ideas in thinking about enterprise software framework for small and medium enterprises in emerging markets.

  1. Software Components: We need to think in terms of how the microprocessor and the concomitant chips helped in standardising the design of the personal computer. Building software out of pre-fabricated components is not a new idea. So far, components have only met with limited success. Part of the problem lies in their definition, part in how to compensate the developers, and part in the desire for enterprises to build unique systems in a bid to gain competitive advantage. Enterprise software for SMEs offers a unique opportunity thanks to the emerging Web Services can solve the interfacing problem. Also, SMEs are less worried about uniqueness than about cost.

  2. Visual Business Programming Environment: Given a library of software components and business processes, how can these be put together? The best people to describe the flows in an enterprise are the ones who manage them. So far, theres been a disconnect between the business managers and the technologists. Whats needed is a bridge between the technologists need to provide the framework in which the managers can define whats best for their business. This is akin to what Visual Basic did for programming. Think of this as a Visual Biz-ic for business. What is going to facilitate adoption is the emerging set of standards for business processes, especially across enterprises.

  3. Digital Dashboard: This is the portal to the business. Just as the dashboard in the car (or the cockpit) provides all the information necessary for the driver (or the pilot), so is the case with the digital dashboard. Information in real-time enterprises is always on. The dashboard provides information customised to the individual, aggregated and filtered from various subscribed XML feeds. This is going to be the new desktop. Think of it as the One Screen to Rule Them All, with the screen being the one on the computer on the desk or the one on the cellphone.

  4. Whole Solution for USD 20 a month: In emerging market SMEs today, the penetration of computers is as low as one for every 10 people. The computer needs to become available for every person in the organisation. This is where there is a need for a revolution how can the entire solution (hardware, software, training and support) be delivered at no more than USD 20 per person per month. Compare this with the tens of thousands of dollars that software licences cost today. To achieve this price point and the resulting opening up of the SME mass markets needs a dramatic re-think of computing in the enterprise.

Even though the ideas may seem from the past, what is needed to take all these ideas together such that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. The technologies of today and tomorrow are going to play a critical role in making this vision a reality. I will elaborate on each of these points in the coming columns.

Tomorrow: Software Components