Sun, Linux and Emergic

From InfoWorld comes a fascinating and revealing interview with Jonathan Schwartz, who heads Suns software business, Much of the focus of the interview is on Suns Linux strategy and its recently announced Linux desktops. Steve Gillmor then dissects Schwartzs comments. (Thanks to Rahul Dave for the pointer.)

Writes Gillmor summarising the opportunity and the solution: The dynamics: Microsoft’s Software Assurance program, the phaseout of Windows NT4, and the post-Sept. 11 economic and security landscape. The target market: call centers, cost-and security-sensitive environments, government agencies, and Third World nations. The deal: a free desktop software stack for the first 100 users. The platform: Linux.

I am beginning to understand Suns strategy [1 2] better. There are two elements in it. One, take away money going to Microsoft for the desktop software and redistribute it between itself (on the server side) and the customer. Two, make the money selling servers and storage.

Here is Suns (new) view of the world: Linux with open-source software on a secure desktop using JavaCard for authentication and the browser as the desktop (Schwartz makes the point that the PC is the only unauthenticated network access point), with Java on the server side, and applications glued together using web services. In short, no need to ever write to Windows (since there is J2ME for mobile/device applications). The server runs the portal, messaging, directory, identity management software that is Suns ONE platform.

Says Schwartz: “Linux is an operating system, it’s not a developer platform. Linux is a tactic. Java is the strategy. The developer platform that we’re encouraging is for line of business applications, content-based applications, distributed applications. Java is the architecture. It runs on the highest end carrier-grade servers and it runs on the military-grade, most secure smart card microprocessor platform on the planet…We will integrate Java Card into the J2SE platform. The one bug in the system right now is that for the most part, the Java platform and the Web content worlds have diverged. It’s incumbent upon us in a Web services way to cause them to converge.”

A key point Schwartz makes is that developers are not loyal to a single platform they are loyal to volumes. That is what Sun intends to give them through its Linux boxes.

Another interesting comment from Schwartz is on the three issues CIO want to hear answers for: “Save me money, increase my level of security, and please help me consolidate away all of this ridiculous complexity.”

Emergic Comparison

As it turns out, our ideas in Emergic are not very different. The Thin Client runs Linux, KDE (instead of Gnome), Evolution, OpenOffice (instead of StarOffice), Mozilla (or perhaps, a lighter browser based on Mozilla) and GAIM. The Thick Server does all the processing and storage. Down the line, we want to add business applications builtaround J2EE on Apache (web server), JBoss (application server) and PostgreSQL (database). There is one additional component which we have: the Digital Dashboard, to create a unified events processing centre, which can be especially useful for first-time users.

What Sun has in its model is the JavaCard, a smart card for security on the desktop. I like the idea perhaps we could accomplish the same via the floppy which is needed for the client to boot-up. (In todays world, floppies are a bad way to do anything, but they already exist in the old PCs while card readers would cost additional money).

Where we differ is in the business model: our aim is to make money off the software and leave the hardware to the channel partners. Sun wants to sell the desktop and server hardware, along with the software as a solution the way they have always done. Suns target audience is also quite different: they want to go primarily after the cost- and security-conscious entities in the worlds developed markets, while our focus is largely the worlds developing countries. Suns solution will be 70% cheaper than Microsoft (as per their claims). Our solution will be 70% cheaper than Sun.

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Intel’s Itanium – NYT

Writes the NYTimes on Intel’s Itanium (its 64-bit processor) in Intel’s Huge Bet Turns Iffy:

Inreasingly, Intel is facing the risk that it has chosen the wrong path to high-performance computing. It may have looked backward as it developed the microchip equivalent of the behemoth computers of the past.

Eric Schmidt, the computer scientist who is chief executive of Google, told a gathering of chip designers at Stanford last month that the computer world might now be headed in a new direction. In his vision of the future, small and inexpensive processors will act as Lego-style building blocks for a new class of vast data centers, which will increasingly displace the old-style mainframe and server computing of the 1980’s and 90’s.

It turns out, Dr. Schmidt told the audience, that what matters most to the computer designers at Google is not speed but power – low power, because data centers can consume as much electricity as a city.

Thick-and-Cheap Linux Desktop

Writes Gary Krakow (MSNBC): “Wal-Mart.com is now selling a computer made by Microtel which retails for $199.86. As you might expect, the computer is on the bare-bones side. Microtel also uses a new, free version of the Linux OS instead of Microsoft Windows to save money. Thats where the story gets interesting. The operating system is called Lindows. Add to the Via 800 MHz C3 chip: 128 MB of RAM (expandable to 1 GB), 10 GB hard drive, 52x CD-ROM, 10/100 Ethernet connection (a modem is $30 additional), keyboard, two-button wheel mouse, and a small pair of powered speakers and you get the new $199 Microtel SYSMAR 710.”

Where it gets interesting is the addition of the AOL programs: “Think of Lindows 2.0 as the AOLs new Netscape OS. Actually, if you dig hard enough on the Lindows Web site, youll be able to find a preview version of an AOL 7.0 client for Lindows. No Windows needed, no Macintosh needed just AOL. Thats something AOL has been trying to do for years. This time they might succeed.” The USD 200 computer can be thought of an AOL PC, according to Gary.

The other interesting element here is Lindows’ ability to run (some) Windows applications: “Lindows was originally touted as being able to run Microsoft Windows programs. Guess what? IT CAN. I was able to take my old, now unused Office 2000 disk, insert it into the Lindows computer and watch in amazement as it installed easily. Theyre now working on getting Office XP to install. The Lindows OS always included reader software for Word, Excel and PowerPoint, but now the full programs can be installed.” This is because of a Windows emulation program called WINE (which is open source and contains no Windows code).

Slashdot thread

I have been thinking how these USD 200 PCs can make a different to our Thin Client-Thick Server project. Some thoughts:

– the computer cost of USD 200 (excluding monitor) would translate to about Rs 16,000 in India (USD 320). This is still at least twice as expensive as what an old PC would cost. Getting the PC cost to less than Rs 6-7,000 in India is critical for mass market adoption (even by corporates).

– by doing all the processing locally on the desktop, one now needs to worry about administration. The TC-TS architecture simplifies this by centralising storage and processing.

– The stand-alone Linux desktop has its market. The TC-TS solution needs about 7-10 TCs to justify the increased cost of the server. It also needs a 100 Mbps LAN between the clients and the server. This eliminates it from various markets (especially, the home segment, kiosks, small branches, etc.) That is where the stand-alone Linux PC can be used.

– In other words, the bigger picture for us needs to address two markets: the “thin client” (which needs a thick server) and the “thick-and-cheap” client (which can be stand-alone). Together, they provide the artillery for an assault on the computer market which can dramatically bring down costs and increase penetration in emerging markets.

For now, we will focus on the first of these markets (TC-TS), and build on software like the Digital Dashboard which can add value when we target the second set of users. We are reasonably agnostic to the hardware – our focus is on the software and the value-added services that can be provided on top of that.

There are some very interesting opportunities for the cheap, stand-alone Linux desktop, and I’ll talk about this in a more elaborate post later.

Microsoft’s Vision for Future Office

From Seattle Post-Intelligencer Reporter a view of how the (physical) office of tomorrow may look like:

Located on Microsoft’s Redmond campus, the center sports a main room with several desks, each with a different configuration of monitors. It’s dark and hushed — except for the Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound booming out from concealed speakers and whooshing, “Star Wars” noises emitted whenever new information comes onscreen or is e-mailed away.

“Surround sound is going to be increasingly important in future offices,” says group marketing manager Tom Gruver in leading a tour of the new facility.

At one desk, users can move a wireless mouse’s pointer from the screen of one computer to the screen of a laptop, with no wire or wireless connection between the computers themselves. That allows copying or moving material between the computers, a task that would otherwise be more difficult.

In an adjoining, ultramodern meeting room, visitors — expected to number about 1,000 corporate executives per month — can role-play workers in a hard-charging widget company, striving to nail down production of a new model before the company’s chief executives goes on television for an interview.

In the article, there is a nice picture of a largish concave screen called Broadbench, which is presumably the type of display we can all expect.

As the article notes in the beginning, most of these technologies are 5+ years away.