The future of Software: Anil Gadre

An excellent article by the Solaris boss in News.com on the present future of software:

Computer operating systems are irrelevant, or should be, to most people.

To home and office users alike, it’s the applications that run on top of the operating system that really count. To the developers who create applications and Web services, it’s the middleware–the application server, directory, and so on–that counts.

The only people who should be concerned with the operating system are the chief information officer and folks who manage network resources. They’re the ones who have to deal with questions of availability, security and scalability–the capacity to grow without adding undue complexity.

Developers shouldn’t need to think about the OS; they should be able to aim higher, at a new software category I call the “service-delivery platform.”

The aim of the service-delivery platform is to make it just as easy for developers to create a large-scale service as it was to create a single shrink-wrapped program for a standalone PC. Developers need to know that certain components are always going to be there–a directory, a network file service, an application server. Those are the components of the service-delivery platform.

Although part of the base platform, these components may also come from a variety of companies offering open-standards-based technology, so long as they present a set of core services that developers can count on–and no proprietary extensions or libraries to cause porting problems.

Exactly the way we need to think of the Emergic platform.

An Entrepreneur’s Walk

I was reflecting recently on the past 3 months, since we began working on Emergic. At that time, there were a number of ideas. I had a set of names for the things we wanted to do, but had little clue on how we would go about doing things. [My May 10 posts]

What we’ve done in the past 3 months is started on many parallel initiatives, which are taking us in the general direction of where we want to go. I don’t have a detailed road map of the terrain. So, as I stand, I walk around on many of the roads and see if they are going in the general direction of where we want to go. This is like taking some small initiatives. As one walks, we see either some clearing or more fog. So, one has to either retrace back, or move along further. These are the decisions an entrepreneur has to make many times a day.

It’s what I have called “An Entrepreneur’s Walk”. The only way one will reach the destination (or close to it) is first by deciding to walk (standing still won’t take one anywhere). Each road may seem equally hazy at first, but walk a little and the landscape will change. It is then the entrepreneur has to decide whether to walk further or go back and try a different road. Some roads will meet a little further down and make a bigger road. Some roads will lead to a dead-end. It is only by walking around on multiple roads that the entrepreneur will make progress.

That’s why it is so important to get rid of the fear of the unknown. It is trial-and-error, but what’s always guiding the entrepreneur is that inner intuition, the hidden hand of God, who tests one periodically to see how determined and confident one is of one’s mission. So, an entrepreneur must leave fear aside and not be afraid of making mistakes. Out of these small mistakes will come bigger successes, and slowly, a map of the landscape will start building.

These are the “walks” that an entrepreneur must enjoy.

Teoma’s Community Searching

Amn interesting article – Teoma vs. Google, Round Two elaborates on some interesting aspects of Teoma’s search engine. These ideas could be useful for us in BlogStreet.

Teoma offers three kinds of results for each query. On the left of the result page are “relevant web pages” that are similar to what other engines produce. On the right are two other kinds of results: “Refine,” a list of “suggestions to narrow your search,” and “Resources,” which are “link collections from experts and enthusiasts.”

Teoma’s underlying technology is an extension of the HITS algorithm developed by researchers at IBM several years ago. In a nutshell, the search engine goes beyond traditional keyword and text analysis and seeks out “hubs” and “authorities” related to your query terms — a “social network” of related content that forms a “community” about the topic.

The cool thing about Teoma is that its community-seeking behavior is both query-specific, and happens in real time. “Whenever you type in a query, we’re actually looking for the communities after you type the query,” said Paul Gardi, Teoma’s Vice President of Search. “We’re using a method called dynamic rank, because there’s a lot of information you can learn about that page by its friends.”

“We’re going into the communities, finding the link structure of the community using text structure as well,” said Gardi.

Blog Enhancements

Over the next few days, we will put up some of the enhancements we have been working in (through software) for this blog. One of them is making the monthly pages as outlines to give a quick glimpse of all the postings at-a-glance. This will make it easier to search for some of the older postings, especially for me!

A few other ideas:
– creating to listserv so that the daily updates can be emailed to people (no need to remember to visit emergic.org everyday!)
– adding a GoogleBox to show the top 10 links to emergic and perhaps other keyword searches (like in Jon Udell’s blog in the right column)
– showing access statistics every day in a blog post which is created at the end of the day. This way everyone knows how many people are reading and where people come from
– extend this “referer log” analysis to take it to the blog post level, and provide “backlinks” for each post (to provide an idea of who has linked to a specific post)

The aim is to over time build a “second-generation blog”, which combines many new ideas which we have seen around the blog world.

Personally, a big change in how I read is about to happen: we have built our own RSS Aggregator which can post to MovableType. We are also building (as part of the BlogStreet project) a blog categorisation engine with neighbourbood analysis. Now, we intend to add for each blog a link to its RSS feed, thus allowing a one-click subscription of the feed into my RSS aggregator. This completes the flow:
– I can search BlogStreet for interesting blogs
– I can add the blogs I like to my RSS feed
– The RSS Aggregator helps me view many items from various feeds on a single page, thus increasing the quantum of information I can process
– Post an item from the aggregator to my blog

This is the foundation of the Digital Dashboard. Next few steps:
– be able to make this entire flow a “service” so others can create their blogs
– enable it to work within the enterprise (as part of the Thick Server)
– create a super-RSS Aggregator to collect feeds
– build a search engine by “post” for the feeds (current and archives)
– enable subscriptions to the feeds
– enable filters to search all feeds (and not just the ones one has subscribed to). This is like the “subject-based addressing” concept as part of the publish-subscribe mechanism.

So, one can now imagine a “Blog Bus” where all blog entries are flowing (getting published) and there are “agents” for each of us, scanning these feeds and filtering them based on what we like (either by the source of the feed or its contents) and then posting them to personal RSS aggregators. From there, we can browse through the items and decide which we want to post on our multiple blogs (each of which may have multiple catgeories). Each blog publishes its own RSS feed which flows back into the system.

Take this a little further. The “Blog Bus” becomes an “Information Bus” with the entries being posted no longer limited to just blog entries from within and outside the enterprise, but any kind of “events”, coming from different sources like calendars, mail, enterprise software applications, and other programs. The rest of the system (RSS Aggregator and Blogs) is the same. What we now have is the Digital Dashboard for the enterprise. [Also see my recent post: RSS, Blogs and Events.]

This will dramatically change the way we process information. The best part of this is that it is all built on standards. Anyone can create an RSS feed from content they have. It is like the early days of the Web when HTML revolutionised publishing. What RSS will now change is the way information consumption.

Shortcuts

A Click Saved: Shortcuts Through Everyday Software:

Shortcuts are particularly handy with the modern Windows and Macintosh graphical interfaces. The icons and menus available on today’s machines may be easier to learn than the “command lines” of earlier computers, but they can nevertheless be cumbersome, requiring a fair amount of attention and hand-eye coordination. Shortcuts let you quickly dispatch frequently used commands.

Shortcuts will be important because they along with file formats are very big entry barriers in people adopting alternate operating systems like Linux. Shortcuts provide a certain familiarity to users. For the key Linux programs, it will be important to actually replicate the Windows keyboard shortcuts to break one of the entry barriers.

Blog Maps

An interesting idea: bloggers organised by subway station (New York Times): “New York City Bloggers aims to be a comprehensive list of New York blogs, grouped by subway stop…In its first week online, the site attracted 25,000 visitors, and more than 600 bloggers identified themselves by subway stop. (By yesterday, there were more than 1,000.)”

What is missing in the world of blogs are directories. There are a few, but none which take into account that there are people doing the blogging, and what is more important than the blog itself is the person. We need categorisations based on the bloggers, and not just the blog.

A blog is actually very hard to classify, because typically they cover a wide variety of topics. But by looking at the blogroll and the links embedded in the blog, it should be possible to get an indication of the “hub blogs” which the blog relates to. At the same time, bloggers should also “identify” themselves — their likes/dislikes. The two taken together could work well in helping a person find bloggers of interest.

TECH TALK: Rethinking Enterprise Software: Whole Solution for USD 20 a month (Part 3)

Much of the world has given up the battle for the desktop, and adopted Microsofts products Windows and Office. The aggregate cost of nearly USD 500 (Rs 25,000) has ensured high levels of piracy in many emerging markets. Enterprises using pirated versions are not born robbers, but do so because there isnt an effective alternative. Even companies like IBM which are very much pro-Linux have concentrated their efforts on the server. Red Hat has focused more on migrating the bigger enterprises from Unix or Windows NT to Linux. The Desktop has been handed over to Microsoft on a platter. This is what needs to change.

The solution lies in a Thin Client-Thick Server (TC-TS) combination. It is what Citrix has been promoting for many years. Citrix has done so using Microsoft technologies. What is needed is an alternative using Linux. Citrixs focus has been on ease of administration because support costs in the developed world are very high. The need in the emerging markets is for a low-cost solution support costs are not as important because salaries for the administration staff are much lower.

The Thin Clients need a collection of the minimal, common applications which would fulfill the needs for most employees. This set includes a graphical user interface, email client, web browser, word processor, spreadsheet and a presentation application. There are Open Source implementations which can put together all of these applications on the desktop KDE/GNOME as the desktop user interface, Evolution as the email client, Mozilla as the web browser and Open Office to match the triad of MS-Word, Excel and PowerPoint. The aggregate cost: zero.

The Thick Server resides on the LAN in the enterprise and supports the Thin Clients. It runs the Mail Server, Instant Messaging Server (Jabber), Database (MySQL or Postgres), Directory Server (LDAP) and Web Server (Apache). This comprises the Enterprise Core. On top is the Enterprise OS in the form of an Application Server like Jboss (or Suns Application Server, which has just been released for free). The enterprise software applications for ERP, CRM and SCM would run on top of the application server. The Digital Dashboard becomes the desktop on the Thin Clients. This is the new enterprise IT architecture.

As applications run locally on the LAN, the issues which have plagued ASPs (connectivity, confidential company information stored on remote servers) are not there. This is a near real-time infrastructure, since it means having to replicate data across locations the costs of a fully connected network are still too high for many SMEs to afford.

The Thin Client-Thick Server combination is at the heart of the effort to bring down the cost of computing and make it available to the enterprise mass markets. There are other side-benefits of this approach. The Thin Client (TC) is easy to manage it can be controlled completely from the Thick Server. If a TC gives a problem, a new TC can be put on the desktop since the users mail and files are all on the server, there is no downtime or loss of data. In addition, upgrades are easy theres only one instance of the software which needs to be upgraded on the server. Of course, the drawback is that the Thick Server now becomes the single point of failure. This can be taken care of by adding redundancy in some of critical components on the server.

Tomorrow: Whole Solution (continued)

Spam Attack

Spam: An Escalating Attack of the Clones in the New York Times:

Spammers are like fruit flies. They multiply. They are elusive. Worst of all, they evolve quickly. The most aggressive spammers have become very sophisticated, constantly varying subject lines, “from” addresses and body text.

Brightmail says the volume of spam it encounters has almost tripled in the last nine months. The company adds that 12 to 15 percent of total e-mail traffic is spam; a year ago, that figure was closer to 7 percent. Brightmail, which maintains a network of In boxes to attract spam, now records 140,000 spam attacks a day, each potentially involving thousands of messages, if not millions.

Spam is the biggest problem with email. NYT also has an article on tips to combat spam.