Mozilla’s SOAP API

From O’Reilly Network: “A Web application running in Mozilla (or in a client using the same scripting engine, such as Netscape 7.0) can now make SOAP calls directly from the client without requiring a browser refresh or additional calls to the server. The data returned from a SOAP operation can be accessed via the same DOM Level 2 methods used to traverse any XML document.”

We definitely need to explore Mozilla a lot more. Customisation of the browser and leveraging the interfaces Mozilla gives can be quite helpful in building out the Digital Dashboard.

Browser’s Limitations – and a Solution

Writes Timothy Appnel as part of an article on how Flash MX can be used to build lightweight Internet applications:

As the Internet continues to evolve into an “Internet operating system”–programmable interfaces, ubiquitous access, and distributed computing resources–the document-centric browser is an awkward solution to a growing number of emerging needs. The browser is not dying by any means; it just needs a mate. And an ideal partner would be an Internet-application-runtime engine to provide optimal user experiences. Flash MX player and the SWF file format shows the potential to serve as such a complementing mechanism.

Timothy elaborates on the browser’s limitations: “The browser is not a panacea for all solutions. Browser-based applications require a connection and a server to operate. Bandwidth use is highly inefficient, which adds latency to the application’s response and erodes the user’s experience. The browser uses a page-centric model with poor support for “tightly coupled” screens, functions, and interactions; and only recently has it begun to add the most rudimentary features for direct data transactions.”

Rahul Dave on our Dashboard

I had given Rahul Dave a sneak preview of our proposed Digital Dashboard. Here are Rahul’s comments:

Usually I prefer much less information on a dashboard, but the design here seems to be very clean. Crucially, there are slots for the latest myblog stuff and recent documents.

There would seem to be 2 fundamentally different kinds of information that one would want to provide on a dashboard. The first is pollable, interval updatable, and is typically the product of an aggregator, or a cron-run call. The second is real-time, as in appointment reminders, instant messaging, and latest email. Perhaps this second class can be handled in an arbitrary browser by Knownow’s javascript microbrowser trick, while in mozilla it could be handled natively(see jabberzilla).

I like the idea of integrating a microServer in the Web browser. Perhaps Radio could be integrated into the browser of the Thin Client. The objective is to make sure the dashboard is updated in real-time wherever possible.

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Related Entries Feature

We’ve added a neat feature to the blog: the “Related Entries” at the end of some of the posts. When I am entering a post, I can assign some keywords in the Movable Type “Excerpt” box. Our software does a search and then takes the top 4 entries which match the post and posts them as Related Entries. For example, see the Related Entries below for the words “blog enhancements”.

What I like about this is that it allows (a) to easily link to other related posts from my blog, and (b) more importantly, chain posts together. When blogging, one writes as a continuing story – like a soap opera unfolding daily. The Related Entries allows me to link up threads so a reader can also see what else I’ve said on a similar topic earlier.

To enhance this threading and linkages, we’ve also added “Prev/Next” links from the individual entries (try doing a search, and click on one of the entries). We have, in addition, added links to “Prev/Next” posts in the same category also.

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Desktop PC Power

Writes John Robb: “I have 95% of my PC’s processer available at any given moment. In a year that will probably be 98%, in three years it will be 99%. This model of the Internet is so messed up. The fact that over 90% of the computing horsepower on the Internet sits idle at any given moment is insane (in fact, 98% of my DSL connection is dead too). It is going to change. It has to change. The notebook (the shift to notebooks is going on at a furious pace — soon will be the day that fewer than 1% have two machines) will be the center of everyone’s computing life. It will be the personal producivity tool, the server, the media station, the entertainment console, publishing system for writing and multimedia, etc. At a 1:1 (one computer to one person), computing hit it’s sweet spot.”

There is another way to look at it — from the viewpoint of the world’s emerging markets. The power-packed desktop PC now becomes the (Thick) Server, capable of handling 25-30 Thin Clients on the network. What this does is brings down the cost of a computing a notch (by a factor of 10) as the world’s older PCs can be used as the desktops for the ones who do not currently have computers.

On the software front, one should make available the latest software to these new users, so that they now have the opportunity to catch-up or even leapfrog in terms of productivity.

PC Reuse Schemes

P. Jauhar writes in from Singapore on PC Recycling:

In Singapore, too, there is a PC reuse scheme. The reasoning behind this is that some PC ability is required even for the simplest of jobs these days. Older workers are left out of the job market if they cannot use a PC in a simple way. Also, many children of low income families suffer if they do not have a PC at home. Their teachers set homework by email and often a PC is required to do the homework. So the Government encourages large companies, ministries and statutory bodies to donate their discarded PCs for this scheme. The PCs available under this scheme range from P-166 onwards. However, the rules insist that the recipient provide proof that he/she taken basic PC literacy training. Highly subsidised courses are available and the cost of training may be as low as US$5.00.

Similar PC Reuse schemes are practiced in various countries. Malaysia adopted a different approach. They allowed people to use their provident fund savings to buy new PCs. But this scheme has been discontinued as there was some misuse.

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Building Platforms

From Joel on Software:

If you want a platform to be successful, you need massive adoption, and that means you need developers to develop for it. The best way to kill a platform is to make it hard for developers to build on it. Most of the time, this happens because platform companies either don’t know that they have a platform (they think it’s an application) or they get greedy (they want all the revenue for themselves.)

Why are platforms important? Writes Joel: “It’s really, really important to figure out if your product is a platform or not, because platforms need to be marketed in a very different way to be successful. That’s because a platform needs to appeal to developers first and foremost, not end users.”

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Lotus Notes Postmortem

Continuing from his first article, Steve Gillmor writes: “The Notes single data store is the singular innovation: an unstructured database upon which mail, calendaring and scheduling, and line-of-business applications could be constructed, layered, and linked. ”

His prediction: “This force of nature will bootstrap Web and peer services to deconstruct lines of business applications into fluid components that can be reconstructed and reused at a fraction of the cost of current integration and hybrid so-called cross-apps.”

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Open Source Gaining Support – NYT

The article is entitled An Alternative to Microsoft Gains Support in High Places and it begins “Governments around the world, afraid that Microsoft has become too powerful in critical software markets, have begun working to ensure an alternative.”

A related story in Linux Todayon the decision by Venezuela’s government to use open source: “The announcement stated that from now on, all software developed for the government must be licenced under the GPL. The entire policy was summed up in this statement by Dr. Felipe Prez-Mart, Planning and Development Minister: Open source whenever possible, propietary software only when necesary.”

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Mesh Networks

Writes The Guardian on how mesh networks can realise 3G’s vision:

Two companies, US startup MeshNetworks and Moteran Networks of Germany, are each developing their own competing version of mesh networking. Instead of the current hub-and-spoke model of wireless communications, with every device connecting to an overburdened central antenna, any time “mesh-enabled” devices – mobile phones, PDAs, laptops – are in close proximity to each other, they automatically create a wireless mesh network. Every device in the area acts as a repeater or router, relaying traffic for everyone else. Traffic hops from person to person until it reaches the nearest internet access point, reducing the need for central antennas, and improving wireless coverage.

Because mesh networks use Wi-Fi, the equipment and infrastructure needed to create them is cheap and readily available. Instead of building cellular phone towers that often cost hundreds of thousands of pounds, all that is needed to get a network going are wireless access points (around 100 now) placed strategically around town to relay traffic, and the proper software. Existing laptops and PDAs can be mesh-enabled by software.

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Sony’s PVR

From San Jose Mercury News:

Sony unveiled a Net-connected video recorder that can seek out and record TV programmes it thinks its owner would like.

The device, which uses a hard-disk drive instead of optical discs or magnetic tapes, will be the first of Sony’s “Cocoon” line of products that aim to become an alternative to the PC for accessing Internet content.

The recorder includes a 160 gigabyte hard-disk drive, able to record 15 hours of high-definition TV or up to 100 hours of standard quality programmes, with a possible expansion to 320 gigabytes.

Cocoon uses the freely available Linux operating system and a microprocessor based on reduced instruction-set computing technology developed by MIPS Technology Inc.

This is part of “Sony’s strategy of opening four home gateways to the Internet: TVs, PlayStation 2 game consoles and mobile phones, as well as the PC.”

A Linux-based PC can perhaps serve as a PVR, with the TV guide becoming the “digital dashboard” for the home segment.

TECH TALK: The Entrepreneurs Delights (Part 5)

10. Friendship with Failure

Entrepreneurs are not afraid to fail. In fact, they believe that only out of failures will come success. Of course, they do not set out to fail. What they do is to set up controlled experiments to try out many of the ideas they have. It is like they are in the middle of a jungle without any maps or navigation instruments. They have a general idea of where they want to go. But to figure out the right sequence of steps, they will make multiple forays into different directions to get a better perspective of the flora and fauna around. This helps them build a mental map of the landscape one that is bottom-up and grounded in reality, and move forward.

In the real world, this translates to creating prototypes quickly which can be taken to customers for feedback so they can be iterated upon. It is like making a television soap opera wherein regular course correction can be easily done, rather than the big bang approach of a film which becomes an all-or-none affair and takes years to complete. Some of what they do will fail because they are trying out multiple approaches. But entrepreneurs are normally quick to recognise what works and what doesnt, and jettison the things that dont. Entrepreneurs are not afraid of failure. It they are afraid of something, it is perhaps that they havent experimented enough.

11. Get It Done

Entrepreneurs are action-oriented. Making projections, org-charts, business plans are just not their cup of tea, even though these are needed as interfaces to the outside world. Entrepreneurs just want to work on getting things done. The challenge for them lies in how to sequence their activities to get the maximum result from the perennially limited resources that they have. Their business is the Ultimate Reality Show one in which there is no Rewind or Pause button, only Play.

12. Enjoy the Journey

For entrepreneurs, the goal and joy lies not just in reaching the destination. While it is very important to be successful, entrepreneurs recognise that their chance of success is quite small in the big, wide world, and more importantly, the odds are always stacked against them. But what matters to them is the journey, the daily battles, the mindgames, the rock-jumping. This is where entrepreneurs are a different breed of people. If they succeed, they will go on to the Next New Thing. If they fail, they will go on to the Next New Thing. The Game of Enterprise goes on.

Last Word

As we live through todays challenging times, it may be a good idea to look inside and discover the Entrepreneur in each one of us. If we close one door, many others open. Too often, we are snugly ensconced in our own private worlds and cocoons that we build not wanting to think differently, not wanting to take any risk, not wanting to make the jump. As an entrepreneur would put it, Think: What would you do if you were not afraid?