Innovations need to be Beautiful – Kay

Says Alan Kay in an interview:

I think the first measure of innovation is whether it’s beautiful or not. You look at music–all the different styles and approaches that have been considered beautiful. Some are cultural and some are more universally accepted. But it’s the learning that goes on–educating people on how to appreciate something as beautiful. It’s complex and the metrics vary.

Take mathematics–this discipline has been around for a long time. Most mathematicians now agree on the kinds of things considered to be beautiful in
mathematics. And since science is expressed in mathematics, one of the things you’re trying to come up with in a scientific theory is whether the math that expresses this idea is beautiful in itself or whether or not it has anything to do with the physical world.

Kay also talks about Bell Labs’ mission, which was written up on the wall: “Either Do Something Very Beautiful or Very Useful.”

I’d like to think of what we are trying to do in Emergic as innovative. Ideas like the Thin Client-Thick Server and Digital Dashboard have to have a certain beauty, a certain poetry about that. One has 10-15 minutes to explain it to others. In those few minutes, we have to paint a breath-taking landscape in front of the other person. (In much the way as Bhansali has done in Devdas.)

There has to be simplicity and elegance in the ideas, and yet they have to be profound. The vision has to be awesome and achievable. The journey may be long, but the road needs to be visible.

Intel’s Problem

Writes David Futrelle (Business 2.0):

Squeezing a billion transistors on a chip is pretty darn impressive, but you don’t exactly need a 10 gigahertz processor to check your e-mail. The only people who hunger for ever faster PCs these days tend to be hard-core gamers and aspiring indie filmmakers attempting to edit feature films on their laptops in their dorm rooms.

Most business customers and consumer PC users remain in what US Bancorp Piper Jaffrey analyst Ashok Kumar calls “a perilously high state of satisfaction.”

Satisfied customers have made for a lot of dissatisfied Intel investors of late. The stock has fallen some 50 percent from its January highs — and 30 percent from where it stood before it issued its earnings warning in early June.

And while some (including Kumar) are convinced that Intel’s recent troubles may mark the nadir for the stock, it’s hard to see what might send PC chip demand moving smartly upwards again. “If Moore’s Law continues in force,” Kumar notes in a recent research note, “the performance of PC processors and the systems they power will continue to bound farther and farther ahead of what the vast majority of buyers need.”

I agree. My own behaviour in the past month or so has convinced me that Moore’s Law has taken technology past what customers need. I am using an Intel-powered Fujitsu notebook (about 3 years old) like a 486/16 MB machine, connected to a Thick Server, which is actually a new Intel-powered desktop. And am very happy with the performance!

I gave my prescription for what Intel needs to do recently.

Intel needs to look at new markets. It is facing the “Innovator’s Dilemma”. Instead of looking to get hundreds of dollars for its microprocessors upfront, Intel should power computing for the next 500 million years with low-cost motherboards, collecting a few dollars each month as rentals. There are huge untapped opportunities at the bottom of the pyramid, but it means shifting the centre of gravity from the West (Silicon Valley and US) to the Eastern countries.

Microsoft Home Router

Writes Business Week:

Microsoft now believes that networking devices, known as routers, may be the key to controlling the digitally wired home. By selling routers that link PCs to game consoles, TVs, and other household devices, Microsoft is hoping to serve as the gatekeeper connecting consumers to the multibillion-dollar world of digital entertainment: games, movies, music, and other services.

In Microsoft’s vision of the future, all these home devices and appliances will be connected through the router not just to one another but also to the Internet. Thus, rock fans could download the latest tunes from a Net service and then access the song on their stereo. And families could share a high-speed Net connection so teens could swap instant messages with their pals at the same time Mom pays bills online.

A Linux Server should be able to do all this just fine.

China’s Legend

Wired writes about Legend and its clout in China’s PC industry, where 10 million PCs will be sold in 2002:

In China it owns the PC industry. More than one-third of the 20 million computers ever sold in China are Legends. Last year, Legend cleared 2.9 million units, claiming 30 percent market share – three times more than its nearest domestic rival and six times more than IBM, the closest international brand. A Legend spin-off, Digital China, is also the main Chinese distributor of HP printers, Cisco routers, Toshiba notebooks, and IBM minicomputers, as well as a leading player in handhelds, systems integration, and servers. With $3.5 billion in revenue, a 35 percent annual growth rate, and a $3 billion market cap, Legend is the fifth-largest publicly traded Chinese enterprise.

What companies like Legend and Huawei have done in hardware, we need to do in software.

Linux Timeline

Linux Journal presents 100 of the most significant events in Linux’s history (since Augusu 1991).

I’ve been using Linux since late 1994 (since the IndiaWorld days). In between, had switched to a Windows desktop, but now am back to using a Linux Thin Client.

Offline IMAP

An interesting tool worth taking a closer look at: “Offline IMAP is a tool to simplify your e-mail reading. With OfflineIMAP, you can read the same mailbox from multiple computers. You get a current copy of your messages on each computer, and changes you make one place will be visible on all other systems. For instance, you can delete a message on your home computer, and it will appear deleted on your work computer as well. OfflineIMAP is also useful if you want to use a mail reader that does not have IMAP support, has poor IMAP support, or does not provide disconnected operation.” [via Rael Dornfest]

Office Pricing

Walter Mossberg (WSJ) calls for Family pricing for MS Office, stating that “Office represents a big percentage of the price of a new PC. At CompUSA, the standard edition of Office XP costs $479.99, and the upgrade version, for folks who have an earlier version, is $229.99. To put that in perspective, CompUSA sells an entire Windows XP computer, the eMachines T1220, for $474.99 — less than the full price of a single copy of Office. Even if we use for comparison a more typical Compaq or Hewlett-Packard model costing $800, Office is still a huge percentage of the cost of the PC — about 60% if you pay full price.”

The numbers become even more striking if you convert them to local currencies. In India, for example, a new computer with Windows XP and MS Office could cost upto Rs 60,000. Compare this with the cost of a Thin Client running Linux of about Rs 10-12,000. One new desktop can buy 5-6 computers for people in a residential complex or an office.

Imagine if, next year, instead of selling 1.8 million new PCs, computer companies can sell 5-7 million PCs (some new, some used) in India. These are the numbers required to give the domestic software industry a huge boost.

Korea and IT

Writes FEER:

Nowhere else in Asia is the impact of technology being felt more acutely. Embraced as the saviour of Korea’s crisis-hit economy four years ago, IT has swept through every sector, from industry to education and politics, creating new jobs, shaking up old ways of doing business and prompting social change. How it plays out will provide a road map for other emerging countries on the same journey up the value chain to a level of innovation that China’s low-cost workers can’t match.

“Korea is becoming an Asian leader. We’ve really leapfrogged Japan,” says Michael Kim, the Korea-based president of U.S. private equity firm The Carlyle Group’s Asian operations.

Where is technology taking Korea? Consider the facts. Every day in the month of April a new e-commerce Web site went on-line. The market leader, SamsungMall.com, sells more goods in one day than six real-world department stores. Three out of four teens prefer to play on-line games than watch television. “That’s real usage,” says Ed Graham, head of Sun Microsystems in Korea. It’s also real jobs, which are being created in the tech sector three times faster than anywhere else.

NCSoft’s Lineage video game is the No. 1 seller in Taiwan, and NCsoft is moving into China and Japan. Sony and Microsoft are scrambling to catch up.

In any case Korea’s love affair with technology is about more that just the Internet. Computer chips still dominate tech exports, but more value-added gadgetry is catching up. One in five mobile handsets worldwide and nearly half the flat-screen monitors used in the latest TVs and computers are made in Korea. IT is the fastest growing sector of the economy. Its share of GDP is the highest of any industrialized country at 13%. Exports totalled nearly $40 billion last year, a quarter of total shipments.

Wired calls Korea the “bandwidth capital of the world”. It writes: “South Korea has the highest per capita broadband penetration in the world. Slightly more than half of its households have high-bandwidth connections, compared to less than 10 percent in the US. The growth in broadband has surged in the last three years from a few hundred thousand subscribers to 8.5 million.”

South Korea’s technology leadership is part of an increasing dominance of the East in emerging technologies. I’ll be writing more on in my Tech Talk on 10X Forces.

Linux for Residential Gateways

Why Linux is Becoming the Residential Gateway Platform of Choice is an important article in the context of using Thick Servers in buildings (with Thin Clients in homes) as a way to create a much bigger consumer market for consumers:

There are many reasons for the accelerating trend to move Residential Gateway (RG) products to Linux-based platforms. These RG products include traditional router/gateway, firewall, and low-end functions that were handled by a proprietary RTOS, as well as new devices needing Virtual Private Network (VPN) support, Voice-Over-‘X’, and other value-add features.

Built as a networking operating system from the ground-up, Linux caters to a range of communication products throughout the embedded sector. An open system compliant with international standards, Linux is ideally suited for retrofit to existing boxes, and as a scalable OS platform for the emergent networking products of tomorrow.

TECH TALK: Tech’s 10X Tsunamis: The Past (Part 2)

Microsoft Windows 3.0 (1990)

Microsofts first two releases of the GUI-based operating system, Windows, had not got much of a response. But version 3.0s release in 1990 narrowed the gap in terms of user-friendliness with Apples Macintosh (introduced in 1984) and crossed the threshold for mass adoption. Windows 3.0 also changed the game in the applications software space. As hitherto leaders like WordPerfect and Lotus, dithered in releasing versions of their software on Windows, Microsoft came from behind with Word and Excel to take the lead in applications. This twin monopoly that Microsoft built on the desktop (with Windows and Office) even today contributes a third of its revenues.

The extent of Microsofts ambition can be gauged from a quote made at that time by Mike Mapes: If someone thinks were not after Lotus and after WordPerfect and after Borland, theyre confused. My job is to get a fair share of the software applications market, and to me thats 100%. Few of the major software applications vendors realised that the release of Windows 3.0 was a strategic inflection point in the industry, and by the time some did, it was too late.

The Pentium Flaw (1994)

It was a small flaw in the floating point unit of the Pentium one that most users would never come across (or to put it more precisely, an average spreadsheet user would run into the problem only once every 27,000 years of spreadsheet use). But this small flaw ended up costing Intel half a billion dollars. More importantly, it hit home the realization that the computer industry had matured and was now mainstream. It highlighted the fact that Intel, though it never sold directly to consumers, was in fact in that business. Technologys impact on our lives had dramatically increased during the preceding years, and it was this one event that brought it all so alive. From something used in the backroom, technology become front-page news and it has stayed that way ever since.

Andy Grove described the feeling in his book “Only the Paranoid Survive”:

Its like sailing a boat when the wind shifts on you but for some reason, maybe because you are down below, you dont even sense the wind has changed until the boat suddenly heels over. What works before doesnt work anymore; you need to steer the boat in a different direction quickly before you are in trouble, yet you have to get a feel of the new direction and the strength of the wind before you can hope to right the boat and set a new course.

It is a feeling we have all experienced at some point in our lives. The cheese has moved, and we havent. Keep Andy Groves words in mind as we will, later, look at some of the 10X changes which are taking place today and some which will hit us in the future.

Tomorrow: The Past (continued)