Negroponte on WiFi

From Wired [via Anand Patwardhan]: “In the future, each Wi-Fi system will also act like a small router, relaying to its nearest neighbors. Messages can hop peer-to-peer, leaping from lily to lily like frogs – the stems are not required. You have a broadband telecommunications system, built by the people, for the people. Carriers are aware of this, but they discount it because they do not feel there will be sufficient coverage. They are wrong.”

Microsoft Enterprise Software


Over the next 12 months, Microsoft plans to release five new sets of business applications, adding to the bookkeeping software it already sells through its Great Plains division.

One set is aimed at helping service companies better use their employees time and skills. Another set is designed to help retailers track inventory and gather point-of-sale information. Microsoft gained the latter set of applications in May with the acquisition of Sales Management Systems.

The third, as previously reported, is customer relationship management (CRM) software intended to help companies track their sales, marketing and service activities.

In the first half of 2003, the company plans to introduce business portal software, an application that arranges on the desktop the software that employees regularly use. Microsoft also plans to release software that will allow companies to exchange data over the Internet with business partners and customers.

Microsoft has its eye on the so-called midmarket, which it defines as companies with between $1 million and $1 billion in annual revenue.

WiFi and 3G

WiFi and 3G are compared in this article from The Feature:

Wi-Fi enjoys a number of advantages over the incumbent 3G. First of all, its being deployed, to varying degrees, throughout the world. Secondly, its cheap. Compared to the extraordinary costs of building out a 3G network – $10 billion for spectrum; $500,000 per base station; marketing costs; etc. – Wi-Fi is a drop in the bucket.

And finally, Wi-Fi is a grass roots movement that isnt suffering under the weight of bloated expectations and interminable delays. Its the loveable underdog. But dont confuse this fascinating technological duel with a zero sum game. This is not winner takes all. Rather, both these technologies will grow to rely on each other in time. And the result will be what weve all been waiting too long for: seamless wireless access at blazing speeds.

India and China’s Domestic Software Markets

From India Must Develop Domestic Market by Rajesh Kalra:

In 2000-2001, Indias total software production (including IT enabled services) was $8.4 billion. Out of this, exports accounted for $6.2 billion and domestic market for a mere $2.2 billion. A year later, while the total reached an estimated $10.2 billion, exports touched $7.6 billion, and the domestic industry sputtered to $2.6 billion.

Contrast this with China, the country we dont often but should choose to compare our software skills with. Chinas total software production in 2001 was $9.6 billion, of which, exports accounted for a mere $0.7 billion. Several would term this as a no-contest, because they tend to weigh success in software with exports performance alone. If that were the case, then yes, India is clearly ahead. But such an attitude is fraught with danger. No country can really be a leader in any field unless it has a strong and resilient industry supporting it domestically.

Some statistics by way of comparison:

China has a PC penetration of 21.6 per 1,000, against Indias 5.7. In the year 2001, it is estimated that the number of PCs sold in India hovered around 1.8 million. China during the period sold around nine million PCs. As for the total installed base of PCs by 2001, while the figure for China stands at 27.5 million, India has a base of under six million.

Then there are comparisons of per capita IT spending and IT spending as percentage of GDP. While Chinas per capita spending on IT is $8.9, Indias is low at $2.4. And Indias IT spending is 0.5 per cent of its GDP whereas Chinas stands at 1.1 per cent.

MS Swaminathan on the Digital Divide

Reaching the Unreached is abridged from a speech by MS Swaminathan, who recently won the Economic Times Corporate Award for Lifetime Achievement. He talks about ideas for bridging the digital divide based on the work his foundation has been doing:

Computer-aided and Internet-connected knowledge centres were started in rural Pondicherry in South India three years ago to work out a methodology for this purpose.

These are owned and controlled by the village people that use them and provide the information they demand. Since there is no telephone connection in some villages, both wired and wireless systems of communication were established.

And as electricity supplies are erratic, an integrated thermal and solar energy supply system has been used to ensure uninterrupted power to run the computers.

The knowledge centres are based on the principle of inclusiveness: All members of the rural population derive benefit from them, regardless of age, gender or social status. Invariably, the villagers chose four women to operate each centre, each spending about two or three hours a day there.

The knowledge centres have effectively empowered rural communities with information on the environment, health, sustainable agriculture and aquaculture, meteorology, markets and prices.

Rural families give priority to information on health, livelihoods, weather and markets. Generic information is converted into information specific to each location, thus enhancing its practical relevance.

ClearCube’s Desktop Blades

Writes about an interesting variation on thin clients:

ClearCube is trying to popularize a new vision for office computing where users would still have monitors, mice and keyboards on their desks, but their superthin computers would be neatly stacked in centralized computer rooms.

The contemporary twist involves “blade”-style design, in which thin devices are stacked vertically in racks like books or record albums. Although the blade concept has taken the server and storage markets by storm, ClearCube’s effort would be the first major attempt to bring the idea to desktop workstations.

On their desks, users get a monitor, keyboard, mouse and a C/Port, a phone-sized input-output unit for connecting the stuff together. A cable, cloaked in security protocols, connects the C/Port to the user’s Pentium 4 computer in the back room. 112 computers can be squeezed onto a six-foot rack.

“It’s sort of like thin clients, but it’s running all the same software as regular desktops,” said Roger Kay, an analyst at market research firm IDC.

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Werbach on Sun and Linux

Writes Kevin Werbach on Sun’s Linux strategies:

To be precise, Sun thinks there is a segment of the market that will move away from Office on the basis of cost and ease of administration. Consumers and business professionals will stick with what they know. Perhaps, though, customers like call centers, schools, governments, and some enterprises care more about total cost of ownership than features, familiarity, and flexibility. At that point, Sun wins. The center of gravity shifts from software, where Microsoft dominates, to scalable, reliable solutions, which is Sun’s strong point.

The jury is out on whether this will work. Previous efforts to unseat Wintel on the basis of price/performance all failed. Today there is one market for desktop software, not the two Sun envisions. Microsoft is pushing in the other direction, in conjunction with Intel and Dell. It wants there to be one market for server software as well, because then it can undercut Sun’s margins on the high end.

I like the point about Sun trying to create two markets. Actually, there are 3 markets on the desktop – 1 visible, and 2 invisible. The visible one runs Microsoft. The 2 invisible ones are:

  • the 300+ million desktops not running Windows XP. These are the computers which are 2+ years old, and are therefore likely to need an upgrade to run XP. This is a huge opportunity: how to create an OS for these users such that they can do what they are doing and not have to ever upgrade. This is the market no one is seeing.
  • the 500+ next computer users. They dont use a computer now, but aspire for one. They cannot afford one. They need computing at a tenth of the price that it is now at. Most of them are in the world’s developing markets.

    These are the two markets Sun (and others) are not seeing. Instead, the focus seems to very narrow: developed markets, niche segments, (unhappy) Windows users and sys admins. That won’t work. In today’s times, one should protect people’s investments (use the desktops which already exist through smart software) or reduce what they have to spend.

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  • TECH TALK: The Years That Were

    One of the lessons we easily forget is that of History. We always think we our generation, our technologies, our beliefs, our enterprises are different from all that has been. We cannot be blamed because none of us have experienced the past (the wayback past). And so we do the best we can in the present and hope for a better future. Of course, the correct thing to do is look ahead, see how new technologies will make a difference, and what opportunities they will create. But every once in a while, it is a good idea to reflect on the past. Because technology moves so fast, it is not easy to step back and think. In an era of blur, our memories too fade away fast.

    I recently came across many old magazines in my collection. As I was debating whether to keep them or discard them, I started browsing through them. For a while, I was completely lost in the world of the 1990s, interspersing events and magazine stories with recollections of my own life, the thinking that was, and decisions I made (or didnt). It was an interesting personal experience, and I thought it would be nice to provide some of the inputs from the magazines so that each of you could do the same. So, for a few brief moments, step into the Time Machine as we go Back to the Past.

    (Admittedly, the collection of quotes is a very unscientific sample. Ive only used the magazines that I foundAs you read this, the idea is to also look ahead to the world that will be, and not get too worried about todays technology slowdown. Tech is relentless. A few years may be a long time for us to live through, but there are put a blip in the overall timeline. Just see the change we have gone through in the past 10 years.)


    Wrote Michael Dertouzos in Scientific American (September 1991 special issue on Communications, Computers and Networks subtitled How to Work, Play and Thrive in Cyberspace) offering a glimpse of the future:

    In a world in which hundreds of millions of computers, servants to their users, easily plug into a global information infrastructure, business mail would routinely reach its destination in five seconds instead of five days, dramatically altering the substance of business communications. A companys designers and markets would actively collaborate on a product, even when located a continent apart and unable to meet at the same time. Consumers would broadcast their needs to suppliers, creating a kind of reverse advertising. Many good would be ordered and paid for electronically. A parent could deliver work to a physically distant employer while taking care of children at home. A retired engineer in Florida could teach algebra to high school students in New York City. And from a comfortable position in your easy chair, you could enjoy a drive to your next vacation spot, a trip through Louvre, or a high-definition movie rented electronically, chosen from the millions available.

    Among the computer ads in the same issue were: IBMs RISC System/6000, Prodigy (Hundreds of exciting features, including 30 personal messages for USD 12.95 per month, with no online time charges), Intels Math Co-processors (i387 and i487), Apple Macintosh IIfx and IIci (and another ad asking why your next DOS computer should be a Macintosh), Dell (showing it No. 1 in the JD Power PC Customer Satisfaction Rankings), Phar Lap Software for its 286 and 386 DOS Extenders, Zeniths MastersPort notebook (Intel 386 SL, 2 MB RAM, 60 MB Hard Disk, Windows 3.0 pre-installed, upto 8 hours battery life, and a weight of 6.8 lbs.), and Intel (Intel Inside how to spot the very best PCs).

    Lee Sproul and Sara Kiesler, writing about computers at work, relate a story by Paul Schreiber, a Newsday columnist, about what happened at his company: Management apparently believed that reporters were spending too much time spending electronic mail; management therefore had the newspapers electronic mail software modified so that reporters could still receive email but could no longer send it. Editors, on the other hand, could still send electronic mail to everyone.

    Tomorrow: 1994