Radio Free Intel

Writes WSJ:

In February, Intel Corp. unveiled a plan called Radio Free Intel that aims to incorporate a tiny radio into every microprocessor the company ships within seven years. In the process, Intel hopes to rewrite the rules of the wireless world — and yank the rug out from under the top manufacturer of wireless components, Texas Instruments Inc.

By using its production clout to turn out the radio-equipped chips in huge numbers, Intel hopes to turn them into a commodity, making them so cheap that they become the chips of choice for a host of devices — from cellphones to personal digital assistants.

But that’s just the beginning. Intel has visions of universal communications humming in the background of everything we do. If radios can be made tiny enough to fit on a computer chip, just about anything — personal computers, cars, digital cameras, even clothing and crops — could be equipped to send and receive data, possibly without the help of a fixed infrastructure.

The near-term impact of Radio Free Intel would be the addition of wireless communications to the capabilities of any PC or personal digital assistant powered by Intel hardware. That would mean, for example, a laptop built with a Radio Free Intel chip would be able to wirelessly link up with a local computer network.

Down the road, the plan holds out the promise of some futuristic possibilities. Once radio devices become a standard part of anything that contains a microprocessor — from watches to microwave ovens — Internet-like wireless connectivity could blanket the inhabited world, says Mr. Gelsinger. Button-size radio-computers would be small enough to fit almost anywhere and could possibly become cheap enough to be disposable. Intel sees a host of other functions for its chips, from unobtrusive monitors fixed to an elderly person’s clothes that monitor his vital signs during the day, to sensors that keep track of the moisture level of a cigar in a humidor.

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How RFIDs Work

Explains WSJ saying that “Radio ID tags may soon be placed in every product imaginable”:

RFID tags come in a wide range of sizes, price ranges and degrees of sophistication, but they all have two basic elements: a computer chip and an antenna. The simplest tags, designed for eventual mass retail use, include tiny chips that can store around 100 bits of information. Depending on the system, the chips can read back and sometimes write new information into their memories. They’re linked to antennae, made of coils of copper or aluminum wire or a special conductive ink, which receive a radio signal from the RFID reader, a separate device that emits such signals and processes the tags’ responses. The simplest versions of this technology, so-called passive tags, don’t even have batteries. They draw their energy from the reader’s radio signal itself, much as a solar calculator is powered by light waves.

Typically, when a tag comes in range of a reader, the radio signal powers up the tag. The computer chip on the tag then sends back a radio signal to the reader containing the data with which it has been encoded. In the systems that some retailers have begun piloting, the reader would be linked to a computer network, where software would be able to analyze the data sent back by the tagged object, identify it, and then issue instructions based on that. The software, for example, might charge a customer’s account for the item, it might order a robot arm to pack the object in a specific mail-order shipment box, it might register in a database that the tagged item has made it from the warehouse to the store’s shelves, it might note that a customer had taken an item into a dressing room but decided not to buy it.

The basic RFID technology is pretty simple, as modern electronics goes, and more than 50 companies, including such heavyweights as Texas Instruments Inc., Dallas, and Philips Electronics NV, based in the Netherlands, make the equipment.

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Ford’s Law for Tech

Writes Lee Gomes (WSJ):

For a while, it seemed as though Moore’s Law applied to PC sales, too. During the height of the Internet boom, annual growth rates were above 25%.

In the real world, however, Ford’s Law is the boss. Ford’s Law, invented here in this column, is named after Henry Ford; it holds that for mature industries, you will be able to count the annual growth rate on one hand.

During the past five years, for example, the domestic demand for cars increased by an average of 2.7% a year. And those were good years. This year, PCs, graying around the temples, will be lucky to beat even the auto industry’s meager average. Goldman Sachs says business spending on technology will rise just 3% or so this year.

Udell on a Smart Desktop

Writes Jon Udell in InfoWorld [via Reena]:

The browser is today, and will for some time remain, the dominant way to interact with Web services on the desktop. More accurately it’s a platform that supports many different modes of interaction. Cloud-based SOAP clients can reflect data into the browser as HTML. The browser can host Java, ActiveX, Flash, or other kinds of components that make SOAP calls; or the browser itself can make SOAP calls using its built-in script engine. The browser can also suck in raw XML data and process it locally, perhaps even while offline, using built-in parsing and transformation engines.

Adds Udell: “The browser makes a poor digital dashboard. SOAP-enabled Office, Win32, Java, .Net, and Flash clients can be more effective, and these avenues are being explored. Also, vendors such as Altio, Digital Harbor, and Fourbit are pioneering a new kind of “smart-client” technology: A Java-based run time, deployed to the desktop, fetches XML descriptions from the network and renders them as interactive GUI applications with widgets that talk locally to one another and remotely to Web services. Because they are purely XML-driven, the Java rendering engine could (with some elbow grease) be replaced with a .Net (or other) renderer.”

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The 300 million PC Problem

Interesting comments by Microsoft’s CTO, Craig Mundie:

Mundie said roughly 300 million computers worldwide run Windows versions that are at least two generations old, produced before Microsoft could anticipate some Internet threats.

Such an upgrade would cost hundreds of dollars for each computer.

“If everybody ran the newest version of Windows, we’d be way better off today,” he said. “We have no way to go require businesses or consumers to go ditch their old machines.”

The is the first big opportunity for Linux and the server-centric computing architecture. Convert these older machines into thin clients (TCs). That eliminates the need for upgrades (forever). It saves organisations money both on hardware and on software (Microsoft XP, other new versions). For a start, organisations should see who needs to run only the base set of applications – browser, email, wordprocessor, spreadsheet, presentation, IM – and switch them over the a Linux TC.

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Fortune on Linux

Writes Fortune:

Today Linux has become the hottest thing in corporate America since e-mail and maybe even Windows itself. Yes, most of the Linux IPOs are out of business or on the verge of going bust. Yes, few really believe Linux will ever replace Windows on the desktop. But on the back end, on servers in data centers rather than PCs on desktops, companies like Boeing, Amazon.com, E*Trade Financial, DreamWorks, Google, and virtually every major Wall Street firm have either finished reconfiguring big chunks of their servers to run Linux or are in the process of doing so. General Motors says it is likely to do the same in a year or so. Even the Chinese and German governments, along with about two dozen other countries, are taking a look at how they can save money by using Linux in their infrastructures.

This conversion is already causing reverberations throughout the high-tech world. For the year ended June 30, the number of servers sold with Linux as the operating system grew 18%, while those sold with Windows grew only 3% and those sold with Unix fell 7%, according to research group IDC. IBM says that contracts for its Linux integration and support services now number around 800, compared with 95 only 15 months ago. And Dell and HP say they will sell 15% to 18% of their servers this year with Linux preinstalled, up from less than 10% last year.

Indeed, Linux may bring about the greatest power shift in the computer industry since the birth of the PC, because it lets companies replace expensive proprietary systems with cheap commodity servers. This is scariest for Sun, which makes almost all its money by selling proprietary hardware and software; many of those systems are being replaced by Intel machines running Linux. Microsoft must worry too, since Linux blunts its biggest selling point to corporate IT managers: price. Because its Windows software runs on Intel hardware, corporate systems built around Microsoft programs are typically cheaper than systems from HP, IBM, and Sun. But Linux runs on Intel hardware, too, and Linux is free. Microsoft most certainly is not.

From a related article entitled Linux’s Siblings: “When the problems are smaller and the benefits diffuse, though, the status quo will reign. Home PC users just don’t have the clout to induce PC makers to dump Windows. Sure, corporations could save millions by replacing all their Microsoft desktop licenses, but it’s doubtful the cost savings merit the hassle factor. Would you want your support staff inundated with calls from people confused by a new system? Probably not.”

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TECH TALK: The Years That Were: 1994

Red Herring (April-May 1994) had an interview with Steve Case, CEO, America Online. AOL as then signing up 2,000 new subscribers a day with projected 1994 revenues of USD 150 million, three times that of the previous year. Its market cap (March 31) was USD 518 million. Some quotes:

Its very unlikely that any startup will emerge out of some garage somewhere and become a major system operator of online services, because it would have to compete with a lot of big players poised to enter the market such at AT&T, Apple, Microsoft, Ziff-Davis, and others.There are certainly opportunities on the content side for companies with highly specialized information services, and on the technology side for companies developing new, enabling technologies.

Our view has always been that the interactive service medium has the potential to have mass appeal, serve tens of millions of people, and ultimately, earn its place next to other mass media such as television and radio.

Our service is the easiest and most fun to use. But we have also focused on building what we call electronic communities within our service. We dont see ourselves as merely a content provider, since we also provide a service that fosters interaction between people with similar interests.

This is a market where the big players benefit from economies of scale, in terms of certain costs of running the network, and the ability to invest in R&D, and partner with the large content companies. Essentially, the big will get bigger. The other dynamic to remember is the potential for interactive advertising and online transaction services, whether you are buying software or mutual funds. Right now, one hundred percent of our business is subscriptions. Thats going to change when all these new services come online.

Fortune had a special report on technology entitled Managing in a Wired World in its July 11, 1994 issue. Heres how the lead story by Thomas Stewart began:

Businesses around the world will spend three and a quarter billion dollars this year to buy intelligent hubs, hardware and software devices that sit at the center of computer networks. They will spend tens of billions of dollars more for routers and other networking gear, for software such as Novells NetWare or Lotus Notes or code they write themselves to stitch operations together.

Computer networking is lots more than a technological phenomenon or an industry you wish youd bought stock in a while back. It may be the most important development in the management of organizations since Du Pont, General Motors, and others invented the modern corporation before World War II.

Whats new is the deliberately networked organization, made possible because it has become cheap enough to put a computer on every desk. A technological network supercharges social networks; no longer adjuncts of the hierarchy, they can supplant it becoming the means by which the company does business.

Fortune also had profiles of 25 cool companies. Among them: Mosiac (later called Netscape), Enterprise Integration Technologies (later became CommerceNet), Womens Wire, RSA Data, Logitech, Radish (software that married telephones and PCs), Maxis (simulation software), McAfee, Cisco, Infosafe (data meters), LucasArts, Norris Communications (inventions), Verifone, Collabra, PF Magic (videogames), Iterated (image compression), Scientific Computing Associates (software for idle workstations), Indigo (digital offset colour printers), DaVinci (interactive TV network for children), MicroModule Systems (multichip modules), Spectralink (wireless office phones), Security Dynamics (digital keys), Medio Multimedia , High Techsplantations (computer simulated surgery) and MicroUnity Systems Engineering.

Interestingly, Nasscom had a 5-page advertising supplement in Fortune, stating Indias software industry crossed the $500 million mark this year. Over 60% of this was from exports of software products and services. Advertisers in the issue included Adam Comsof, CMC, Citicorp, Eurolink, Bangalore IT Park, IIS, Kirloskar, Mastek, PSI Data, Patni, Phoenix Software and SquareD.

Tomorrow: 1995

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