Windows to Lindows to…Windows!

Mike Langberg, writing in the San Jose Mercury News, says Lindows makes Windows look good. It is an assessment of many things we can do wrong in trying to get people to switch from Windows to Linux. His conclusion:

LindowsOS, at least in its present form, represents false economy. Any money you save buying a LindowsOS computer and downloading Click-N-Run software will be canceled out by the time spent coping with the many missing pieces.

If you want a bargain, consider the offerings from Emachines (www.emachines.com), the only major manufacturer currently selling Windows PCs for under $500. The Emachines model 1220, at $399 after a $75 mail-in rebate, offers a 1.2 gigahertz Intel Celeron processor, 128 megabytes of RAM, a 20-gigabyte hard drive and Windows XP Home Edition. After suffering through a period of poor quality and customer service, Emachines has rebounded with decent products and support — undermining the need for LindowsOS.

I haven’t tried LindowsOS, so its hard to comment on it. My belief though is that all these companies are targeting the wrong set of users. Just forget the developed markets (US, Western Europe, Japan). Focus on the next one billion users. They are the ones who are willing to go through some learning (and even some pain) and will be delighted with an 80% solution – one which is cheaper than the alternatives available. It is a much harder set of customers to target, and not that’s not immediately obvious sitting in Silicon Valley. But there is a world of 4 billion people living in countries whose per capita GDP is more than the cost of a PC. They are asking: What can you do for me today?

Dan Gillmor’s Microsoft-free existence

Writes Gillmor: “A year ago this week I “declared independence” from Microsoft. I’m back to tell you how it’s going — pretty well in some respects, mediocre in others.”

A few comments from Gillmor, who now uses a Mac:
– I still think Linux is going to make some inroads on desktop computers. Just not on mine, not yet.
– The real test, as I noted when discussing Linux, was with applications. For what I do, and for what the vast majority of other people do, this is not a problem on the Mac.
– Whether you go Mac, Linux or anything else, I hope you’ll join an independence movement. We may lose in the end, but we must try.

Well, I’ve had a nearly Microsoft-free existence for a month now with the Linux Thin Client. It has convinced me that “independence” is possible. There are uses with some applications for some people, but for the most part of what most people do, one can live, with a little learning, without Microsoft apps on the desktop. The ideal mix is to have everyone on Linux Thin Clients talking to a Linux Thick Server, and have a few Windows desktops (and the applications) which are accessible from the Linux TC if needed. Cuts the cost dramatically.

An Entrepreneur’s Aha Moment

The San Jose Mercury News writes on the Aha Moment for the founders of Netflix: “Reed Hastings and a partner were casting about in 1996 for the next big idea while waiting to sell their software company to Microsoft. The plan, to deliver videos by mail, got a cold reception from venture capitalists. Then a friend recommended DVDs. Hastings had never seen one, but quickly calculated the discs would be much cheaper to mail — needing only a first-class stamp. That, he recalled, was the key “aha moment.”…Today, Netflix of Los Gatos is riding the wave of consumer demand for DVDs, pairing the Internet with old-fashioned mail to deliver 100,000 rentals a day nationwide.”

Every entrepreneur has memories of that moment when all of a sudden things fall into place, when the future becomes so blindingly obvious. It is the moment wherein the jigsaw puzzle comes together, and an idea turns into a business. We all have these moments. My Emergic Aha Moment came when in January as ai was trolling through LinuxWorld, I came across 486s running Linux Thin Clients. Out of that emerged the idea of using old PCs as desktops combined with server-based computing to create a low-cost computing platform for the next generation of users.

Hastings’ words echo my feelings of the opportunity before us: “There is an opportunity to build a very large and important consumer company like Starbucks did. Lattes at $3.50 were a niche market at one point. No one could imagine such a thing.”

Web Services and ebXML

An article on InternetNews examines ebXML and Web Services:

With ebXML, the focus is a little less broad than Web services, although the computers-talking-to-one-another ideology remains the same. Fostered by standards groups UN/CEFACT and OASIS, the goal of ebXML is to enable a global electronic marketplace where enterprises can meet and conduct business with each other through the exchange of XML-based messages. Or, as Ron Schmelzer, analyst with XML and Web services technology research firm ZapThink, says: “ebXML envisions a future where businesses can describe their interfaces electronically and then allow businesses to dynamically locate those interfaces and then bind to them when they choose to actually do business. It’s a good vision, but depends on two big things: standards and the actual implementation of those standards by businesses.”

B2B arrangements are devised of horizontal and vertical parts. On the horizontal stacks, there are software functions such as messaging, routing and packaging data. On the vertical side, there are business processes, such as a purchase order. That’s in general; there are cases where a PO can be part of the horizontal stack.

As Forrester Research analyst Ted Schadler pointed out about ebXML stacks, bottom layers hear each other and understand what the other is saying, the middle layer consist of those that hear each other and know what the other is saying, and the last layer is the actual business process or trade, such as a purchase order. That is what ebXML seeks to enable.

This is a longish and excellent article on ebXML — just what I’ve been wanting to know. ebXML, along with RosettaNet and BizTalk, are creating standards for business processes. What we will need to decide soon is in the context of what we want to do, which of the paths should we follow.

Also see: Can EDI Survive XML Challenge?, OASIS ebXML Presentations

Microsoft Project Management

Writes InfoWorld on Microsoft’s new release of its Project Management software:

Microsoft Project 2002 shifts the focus of its project management offering from the desktop to the enterprise and in the process steps up to meet new competitors in both project management and PSA (professional services automation).

With built-in SOAP (Simple Object Access Protocol) and XML support, and an included .Net Enterprise Server, Microsoft is also aiming Project 2002 squarely at Web services developers in search of tools to integrate project management across applications and databases.

Hosting services for project management may gain favor as several Microsoft partners, including Business Engine and eLabor.com, gear up to deliver Project Server as an ASP offering.

Established enterprise project management vendors Primavera and Artemis recognize Microsoft Project 2002 for its strong resource management capabilities, but representatives of both companies said scalability is still lacking.

Project Management is as horizontal and as universal application an application that we will get. As part of the collaboration suite that we will need to build in the Enterprise Software category, a project/task management component is going to be very important. Everyone is part of one or more projects and is involved in multiple tasks. A project management platform integrated with the Digital Dashboard is what we need.

BPMI Process Spec

Writes InfoWorld: “The Business Process Management Initiative (BPMI) has made available the first public draft of a specification aimed at providing a standard way to model business processes across heterogeneous systems both inside and outside the firewall. BPML (Business Process Modeling Language) 1.0 is an XML Schema that defines a formal model for expressing business processes that represent a range of enterprise activities such as transactions, data management, concurrency, exception handling, and operational semantics, according to officials at BPMI.” [BPMI Press Release]

We need to track BPMI for our Visual Biz-ic and Enterprise Software components development.

What US Cellphone upgraders want


Notes Forbes
: The survey of 51,000 respondents in the US found that of the prospective phone upgraders:

– 80 percent of wanted full address book applications in their next phone,
– 74 percent wanted voice recognition features
– 67 percent wanted short text messaging.
– 37 percent wanted personal digital assistant capabilities
– 30 percent wanted photo viewing and multimedia functions
– 29 percent were interested in music listening features
– 26 percent were interested in built-in camera capabilities

About 50% of Americans own cellphones.

Mozilla Benefits

Writes the NYT in a brief article on Mozilla, which is the browser I now use on my Linux Thin Client:

Mozilla has a number of appealing features. Unlike other alternative browsers like Opera and Smart Explorer, which require Web surfers to choose between blocking or permitting all pop-up windows, Mozilla allows users to block only unrequested pop-ups. That means it will block advertisement windows but allow a window to pop up if the user clicks on a link requesting it.

Mozilla incorporates several features of Opera, including tabbed browsing, which allows several Web pages to be opened in one browser window. It is possible to select a word and send it directly to a search engine. And Mozilla stores your name, address and other information so that it can fill in online forms automatically.

For adventurous users, there are a wealth of add-ons in the works (most of which can be found at www.mozdev.org/projects.html), including a music player and a clone of the old arcade game Pac-Man.

Good points to keep in mind when we go out convincing people to use Mozilla over Internet Explorer.

Intel – Business Week

In an article entitled Intel Is Seeking Safety in Diversity, Business Week says:

With PC microprocessors accounting for 80% of Intel’s sales, the Santa Clara (Calif.) company has figured out that the only way it can grow faster than the PC market is by diversifying….Yet that strategy has risks, too, given that Intel will face a swarm of competitors.

The plan is to go after faster-growing markets, such as mobile and communications chips.

Intel’s new Itanium 2 processors, expected to be released in the next few months, could give it up to a 30% market share in the high-end server market.

Portable devices are another market Intel is making a major push into. Its XScale chip, already used in pocket PCs made by Toshiba and others, could soon debut in next-generation cell phones capable of streaming video and gaming.

The magazine recommends: “What should help Intel in all of these areas is its work on making cheaper, smaller chips.”

Here’s what Intel should do:
– Bring back its 486 and low processing power Pentium chips
– Create motherboards for assemblers, with 16/32 MB RAM and Networking (Ethernet, 802.11b) built-in
– Offer a add-on slot for multimedia (sound)
– Sell the base motherboard for no more than USD 40 (Rs 2,000)

This becomes the base for the Thin Client, and creates the platform for the next generation of 1 billion users. It also spawns a huge new industry serving first-time computer users.

It took 25 years for the world to sell 1 billion PCs. Intel should focus on getting the next 1 billion users – these are likely to be in the world’s emerging markets. They need computing like a utility for a few dollars a month.

A related story on Intel’s Itanium 2 on News.com: ” Analysts generally agree the new chip will shine on benchmarks and be popular in areas such as biosciences that require heavyweight numbers crunching…Unfortunately for Intel, the chip is arriving at a time when the entire industry is in a deep freeze. Corporate customers have drastically curtailed IT budgets and are less inclined to adopt or even test new technologies.”

Architectures for Mobile Computing

The Information Week article is with reference to Mobile Computing and may not have immediate and direct relevance, but this excerpt provides a context for thinking about computing architectures:

The client-server model was originally pitched as offering a future of networked, distributed services providing discrete, componentized business functions integrated via clean, standardized interfaces (a picture remarkably similar to the pitch for today’s Web services). The reality turned out to be, with a few honorable exceptions, fat clients exchanging SQL with remote databases.

Then along came the Internet and with it an entire generation of thin-client HTML interfaces, which have slowly grown richer over time. The latest wave is Web services, which will probably feature prominently in both server-to-server and client-to-server exchanges. Intriguingly, the short history of mobile devices in enterprise IT has rapidly recapitulated this history, having passed through its own fat client and thin client waves, and the current wave of misinformation about the relative network characteristics of fat and thin clients is largely driven by advocates for Web services on mobile devices.

Some have argued that rich clients using Web services are better than thin clients because they don’t waste bandwidth transmitting both data and apps as HTML does, while thin-client proponents argue that their model is better because it only has to transmit screen updates, not all of the application data. Both arguments sound superficially plausible, suggesting that deeper examination is required.

In reality it’s an oversimplification to believe that any single architecture is inherently better than another in this regard. A designer has to consider three dimensions–the overall architecture, the design of the specific app, and user behavior–to determine how efficiently a given application communicates and what the trade-offs are.

China: Imitation Nation – Salon


Writes Salon
:

Mainland China is the piracy capital of the world. China’s imitation industry feeds not just its own economy, but those of other nations as well; 46 percent of the pirated goods sold in America come from China, according to the International Intellectual Property Alliance (IIPA). The Quality Brands Protection Committee (QBPC), an anti-piracy body under the auspices of the China Association of Enterprises with Foreign Investment, claims that government statistics show that counterfeits outnumber genuine products in the Chinese market by 2 to 1. Pirated audiovisual materials occupy 95 percent of the market in large cities, and the proportion approaches 100 percent in the rural interior.

Enforcement efforts are made even more futile by popular acceptance of piracy. Rising incomes have created an enthusiasm for foreign goods and brands, but Chinese consumers have become so accustomed to cheap, pirated goods that they are unwilling to pay full prices for the real thing. Traditional Chinese moral relativism combines with a modern sense of short-term opportunity cost and self-interest to justify what everyone knows to be wrong and illegal.

Smart Cards Future

A WSJ interview with Marc Talbot, SchlumbergerSema’s business-development manager for IT Network Smart Cards:

We are seeing very good growth in the smart-card market for the workplace. Companies are trying to do the combination of physical and logical access and we’ve seen major deployments in Asia, North America and Europe.

I think that trend will certainly continue.
What might be more interesting is the growth of the smart card in the home. Smart cards until very recently had suffered from the same problems that digital-video-disc manufacturers had suffered five years ago. Back then, DVD manufacturers said, “Well, we’d sell more DVD players, if there were more DVD movies around.” Movie companies said, “Well, we’d make more DVD movies available, if there were more DVD players out there.”

Smart cards have been suffering from much the same problem, in the sense that people come up with good applications for smart cards for the home user, but they can’t deploy them unless they put a reader in the PC and most PCs don’t have smart card readers because there aren’t any interesting applications for smart cards.

Future smart cards will no longer need a reader to hook up to the PC. They’ll hook up through a very inexpensive connector and that’s really going to open up opportunities for smart cards in the home

In 2001, SchlumbergerSema shipped 198 million smart cards, about 29% of the world’s total.

Smart Cards could be a useful mechanism for authentication for Thin Clients (SunRay does this).

TECH TALK: Server-based Computing: Citrix’s Solutions

If there is one company which has epitomised Thin Client-Thick Server computing, it is Citrix. Together with Microsofts Windows Terminal Server, Citrix offers a centralised form of computing. Using Citrix also eases the administration and support issues, since all desktops can be controlled from the server itself. Citrix also works well over low-speed lines since the data transfers are quite limited.

An article in Information Week (November 29, 1999) provided the perspective on Citrix:

Since its founding in 1989, Citrix has grown steadily by selling software built on Microsoft operating systems. Its core technology is called the Independent Computing Architecture, which lets multiple users access applications with a range of thin devices from a remote server. Now that access to Internet application servers is commonplace, remote access to applications doesn’t sound like a big deal. But in the early ’90s, when Citrix introduced the technology that Independent Computing Architecture is based on, people were amazed, says Greg Blatnik, VP and analyst with Zona Research.

“Citrix did something that had never been done before and hasn’t been done since: It turned Windows NT into a multiuser operating system. Back then, people were blown away because demos looked as if the application was running locally when it could have been halfway across the country,” Blatnik says.

Independent Computing Architecture, which lets IT departments deliver universal access to Windows applications without regard to client device, operating platform, network connection, or available bandwidth, is the technology basis for Citrix’s primary server software products, MetaFrame and WinFrame.

There are problems with Citrix when looked at from the point of view of enterprises in emerging markets. Citrix by itself does not reduce the need for software organisations still have to buy all the Windows licences for the users. In addition, Citrix has a high cost for its own software. In India, the cost is upwards of Rs 14,000 (USD 280). So, the advantage of the cheaper hardware is more than offset by the software costs. The real value of Citrix comes in its ability to reduce support and administration costs and offer remote working for employees. Both of these advantages have limited appeal in emerging markets.

What Citrix does, though, is offer a starting point for thinking about a possible solution which can not only leverage the cheaper hardware but also reduce the need for expensive, proprietary software. What is striking when enterprises in emerging markets think of providing desktops with hardware and software costing USD 1,200 to employees whose salaries are less than USD 300-400 per month. There is a definite need for an alternative computing model one which learns from the history of computing and leverages tomorrows technologies to create a future where computing is for everyone.

Linux-based Thin Client-Thick Server computing may just be the Disruptive Innovation to take computing to the mass markets in the emerging markets of the world.

Tomorrow: The Linux Difference