Technology Gap

Time for straight talk on technology by Patrick Moorhead of AMD asks some fundamental questions: “What if the rate of home and business technology innovation is outpacing its relevance to many consumers, leaving them to wonder if they even need the latest in technology? At that point, are the ‘evident’ benefits of computing really so evident?”

He looks at the disconnect between technology innovation and adoption and concludes that a “technology gap” indeed exists on a global level. His reasoning:

The average person using technology often faces an unfamiliar vocabulary of acronyms and abstract high-tech terms that he or she doesn’t understand. When purchasing, setting up and even using technology devices, this lack of understanding only serves to confuse, paralyze and frustrate. Even worse, as technology continues to innovate, the technology vocabulary constantly increases.

Patrick argues that “the industry must realize that the values and relevancies of technologies are different for different people. Educational, cultural and geographic differences among consumers obviously exist. Yet when designing, marketing and supporting a product, the industry seems to take a one-size-fits-all approach.”

He concludes by saying:

How can we put the technology consumer back at the center of the technology discussion? How about starting by communicating in terms that explain the real benefits that people will receive from their technology investment. Let’s motivate people with a reason to buy targeted to solve their unique needs rather than with some cool technology feature.

Very much the questions we’ve been asking in Emergic. The world looks a lot different from the emerging markets. Consumers and businesses cannot afford dollar-based technology. At the same time, tech is their only hope to catch up with the rest of the world. What is needed is to use the newest ideas, combined with innovative “value-added aggregation” to create solutions for these markets.

That is where the next hundreds of millions of buyers are going to come from. They don’t need technology for technology’s sake, they need solutions which can make a difference to their lives. Technology must become (and be priced like) a utility for them.

Web Services for EAI and B2BAI

John Radko writes on the why Web Services will become one of IT’s most significant innovations:

One reason is that Web services allow managers to start with the technologies they already have on hand.

Also, Web services offer IT a way to finally resolve the painful problem of application integration. That makes it a supremely valuable tool for businesses implementing Web services in areas like order management, shared forecasts, or connection of internal systems.

For example, consider the hypothetical case of a buyer wanting to inquire about the status of an order. The seller’s manufacturing system would need a SOAP interface. Then the buyer’s purchasing system could “call” the seller’s system over the Internet using Extensible Markup Language (XML) and ask, “When will my order ship?”

His conclusion: the true promise of Web services is in reducing costs, not eliminating them.

Longhorn and Yukon

Microsoft’s Road Map Shows New Windows File System, writes Information Week:

Microsoft plans to accompany the release of a future version of Windows, code-named Longhorn, with versions of Office, Exchange, and Visual Studio based on database technology under development.

Microsoft execs confirmed that the Longhorn version of the Windows client and server–due several years from now–will use as its file system database technology slated for inclusion in the next version of SQL Server, code-named Yukon. The upcoming version of SQL Server will store documents, E-mail, multimedia files, and relational data in a common data store, in XML format.

Later this decade, that data store will buttress Microsoft Windows and Exchange. Instead of users dropping documents and messages into folders to organize them, then having to memorize their systems, Windows Longhorn could tag documents or digital photos with XML metadata that lets users quickly reorganize files in different groups according to content.

What we are doing with the Thick Server software is also creating an operating system. We are aggregating various components from open source and putting them together. It may be good to look at some of these ideas from Microsoft to see if we can incorporate them on the server side.

Movable Type Trackback

Writes Dan Gillmor on an interesting new feature becoming available in MovableType (the software I used to write this blog): “TrackBack — this is about peer-to-peer communications connecting a) blog entry to blog entry; b) category to category; or c) entry to category. The idea is a threaded view of blog conversations — an automated and explicit equivalent to referrer log tracking. It generates RSS, which means you could use it to start one entry, a root distributed over several blogs and build a threaded conversation across a bunch of blogs.”

Need to understand this more, and also implement as part of this blog.

Open Source goes Hybrid

The Economist, commenting on some of the recent developments like RealNetworks’ Helix, says that this does not spend the demise of open source programs. It goes on:

On the contrary, it is likely to speed their adoption. Indeed, open source looks ideal for these difficult times. Free software is an attractive proposition when technology budgets are tight. Also, because more eyes look at the source code, it tends to be more secure and robust than proprietary software. Linux is thus winning unexpected converts, such as investment banks and government agencies. Since April, for instance, Credit Suisse First Boston’s global trading system has been running on Linux.

Most surprising, however, is that firms outside the technology industry have taken to using open-source techniques. For instance, Dresdner Kleinwort Wasserstein, an investment bank, has released the source code for programs that link different computer systems within the firm. Barclays Global Investors, an investment-management firm, lets its programmers use the same development tools as open-source groups. Both firms are customers of CollabNet, one of the more promising open-source start-ups.

Adds Dan Gillmor, capturing the spirit of the movement:

I was living in Lincoln at the time. I’ll always remember the spirit that drove people, whether church-goers or not, to volunteer time and dollars to solve a problem that was affecting the community — and I’ll especially remember the pride we all felt one summer day as we watched the replacement church being trundled down the country road to its new foundation.

That spirit, it seems to me, is part of what fuels the open-source software movement and its close relative, free software. With open source, the programming instructions (source code) are openly available for anyone to use and modify, with the general proviso that improvements are returned to the overall community.

Open source software runs at the core of the Internet, which would not be what it is today without the contributions of countless volunteers. Open source is one of the last remaining constraints on monopolists like Microsoft, and offers alternatives in an increasingly monocultural environment.

Gillmor also quotes Yochai Benkler, who says that open source signals “a broad and deep emergence of a new, third mode of production in the digitally networked environment.” Writes Gillmor: “In an upcoming article for the Yale Law Journal, he calls it ” ‘commons-based peer-production,’ to distinguish it from the property- and contract-based models of firms and markets. Its central characteristic is that groups of individuals successfully collaborate on large-scale projects following a diverse cluster of motivational drives and social signals, rather than either market prices or managerial commands.”

In Emergic, too, we need to harness the software strengths of a wider pool of developers. We should consider making what we are doing open-source.

TECH TALK: Tech’s 10X Tsunamis: Wireless (Part 3)

To make matters even more interesting, four emerging technologies identified by The Economist promise to render not only the next wave of so-called 3G wireless networks irrelevant, but possibly even their 4G successors. These technologies are: smart antennas, mesh networks, ad hoc architectures, and ultra-wideband transmission.

Of all the ideas, the one which may be most appealing is that of using mesh networks. Writes The Economist (June 20, 2002):

Proponents of mesh networks believe that they have found a way around the last-mile problem. At the moment, there are two main ways to provide broadband connections to the home: use either the local cable-TV network or a digital subscriber-line (DSL) from the local telephone company. DSL supercharges ordinary phone lines to enable them to carry data at high speed. But not every neighbourhood has cable access, and DSL works only for subscribers close to a telephone exchange.

The mesh-networking approach, which is being pursued by several firms, does this in a particularly clever way. First, the neighbourhood is seeded by the installation of a neighbourhood access point (NAP)a radio base-station connected to the Internet via a high-speed connection. Homes and offices within range of this NAP install antennas of their own, enabling them to access the Internet at high speed.

Then comes the clever part. Each of those homes and offices can also act as a relay for other homes and offices beyond the range of the original NAP. As the mesh grows, each node communicates only with its neighbours, which pass Internet traffic back and forth from the NAP. It is thus possible to cover a large area quickly and cheaply.

Connecting the Masses

Even as voice and data networks converge to an IP base, wireless technologies are the 10X force that are providing the fabric to build a real-time communications infrastructure. In the second half of the 1990s, telecom companies built up huge capacities by deploying fibre optics through their network backbones. Now, wireless networks are taking this bandwidth to the endpoints. In fact, they are creating endpoints everywhere users want to be.

When it comes to connectivity, emerging markets like India may have state-of-the-art LANs (at 100Mbps), but are woefully behind in WANs (wide area networks). Connections of 64-256 Kbps are considered high-speed for enterprises. Wireless technologies offer the leapfrog that is needed to bring the full force of the Internet, cost-effectively, to the desktop and doorstep.

Wireless can also make it possible to imagine connecting villages into the national grid. For centuries, the road and rail has been the only connector for the hundreds of millions of people who live in the hinterland. In the last decade or so, they have seen telecom and television become available. Now, in the coming years, a whole new world can be opened up with high-speed and cost-effective data connections. Computers, connected to the Internet at high-bandwidth, can bring forth interaction with a world which was available only through the travellers tales or television screens.

Additional Reading:

  • TechTalk: The Real Wireless Revolution (March 11-16, 2002)
  • Tech Talk: The Digital Divide: Cellphones (April 16, 2002)
  • TechTalk: Indias Next Decade: WiFi: 1 2 (May 8-9,2002)
  • Emergic.org: Telecom

    Next Week: Techs 10X Tsunamis (continued)