Microsoft XDocs

New Office product to simplify (News.com):

Microsoft hopes to turn XDocs into the data-retrieval mechanism most Office customers would want to use, which would enhance the value of the productivity suite. Office contributes more than one-third of Microsoft’s overall revenue.

Meta Group analyst David Yockelson said XDocs is “powerful because it lets me collect up a lot of related information into a tabular format,” Yockelson said. “It removes the demarcation between what a spreadsheet is, what a document is, what a form is, and how I can look at and retrieve information that would be in those things.”

One usage scenario is a sales organization where the field force must input lots of disparate information as part of a sales trip, such as customers visited, client feedback or traveling expenses. Rather than use multiple tools to input the data, a salesperson “could create a hyperdocument or form to input that information once and take that XML (and use it) as the business defines,” said Scott Bishop, Office product manager.

Companies cannot always pull out the real-time information they need using Web forms and, often, hours of work are wasted when a dropped server connection stops data entry midstream. Web-based systems also are typically slower accessing data.

“In a traditional Office-type application, all of that information can be stored on the user’s desktop,” Bishop said. “There are some distinct advantages to moving things back to the desktop. This lets users actively participate in Web services, which until now primarily are server-to-server.”

Some interesting ideas here to consider for our Digital Dashboard and Enterprise Software development.

Simplified Computing

A Slashdot reader asks about distributions/configurations for specific uses: “My college (UMPI) is currently reviewing a proposal to collect old hardware from small businesses and assemble machines for those who do not have a PC. The issue came up as to what linux distro to use that will allow us ease of both setup and ability to lock down the machine so once they are out in the field, they cant be tinkered with by accident (thus preventing problems later). These will be used solely for the purpose of web activities (surfing/mail), and word processing and *THATS IT*. Does anyone have suggestions and an idea about how to go about a standardized (or a sort of embedded) configuration across variable hardware?”

There are some very interesting responses from readers. A few of note:
– use graphical terminals with a boot server
– DHCP and BOOTP
– Knoppix
– Gentoo Linux
– LTSP/K12LTSP
– Kiosk-mode Linux
– Kawaii Linux
– Icewm as Window Manager
– Lindows

This is exactly what Emergic Freedom is doing: a mix of old PCs and server-based computing, with all the basic open-source applications that are needed.

Slate on Tivo’s Future

I have never used the Tivo, but from all that I have read and heard I think it is one of those “cool things”. That doesn’t seem to necessarily translate into marketplace success.

Slate’s obituary offers some history lessons:

You can ascribe TiVo’s struggles to the business axiom known as “first-mover disadvantage.” Technology pioneers typically get steamrollered, then look on helplessly from the sidelines as a bunch of Johnny-come-latelies make billions. First movers, the theory goes, are too smart for their own good, churning out gizmos that are too expensive or too complex for the average consumer’s taste. The big boys survive their gun-jumping%u2014think of Apple and its proto-PDA, the Newton, which might have dusted the rival PalmPilot had the company merely waited a year or two to iron out its kinks. Smaller fry go kaput.

The technology roadkill that TiVo’s brain trust ought to be studying is Commodore, the defunct company behind the venerable Commodore 64 home computer. If you’re on the younger side of Gen X, chances are you learned to program a few lines of BASIC on a C64, which sold 22 million units in 1983. Nearly a third of all computers sold worldwide that year bore the Commodore logo. The conventional wisdom held that the company’s follow-up couldn’t fail.

Except it did. Miserably. The Commodore Amiga was a multimedia machine designed to become the centerpiece of the family den. The designers foresaw the not-too-distant day when people would jack their VCRs and televisions into a PC like the Amiga, which featured such revolutionary perks as a full-color screen (a big plus in the age of green-and-black Apple IIc monitors) and stereo sound. The Amiga could be a video editor, a gaming console, a musical instrument. Geeks were dazzled.

Joe Six-Pack, however, was stumped. VCRs and video-game machines had just recently made a splash in the mass market. Now Commodore was asking people to add yet another box to their living-room array. The Amiga suffered from an identity crisis that the company never solved. Was it a gaming machine? People were happy enough with their Ataris. A music synthesizer? Cheap Casio keyboards were ubiquitous. A video editor? The camcorder revolution had yet to take hold. The Amiga flopped, and Commodore slowly lapsed into bankruptcy. Now the Mac renaissance is being driven by Amiga-like multimedia features, much to the chagrin of busted Commodore shareholders.

Slate’s advice for Tivo’s survival: licencing.

Asian Innovation

FEER writes about the Asian Innovation Awards finalists. Winners will be announced next week. My pick:

A hand-held windmill to power mobile gadgets. When science graduate N. V. Satyanarayana was travelling by train across India his Walkman batteries would pack up after three hours. He had no way of recharging them and buying replacements on the way was costly. The wind blowing through the train windows made him recall his science lectures on wind energy. He soon set to work on making a portable recharger which works on the same principle as a windmill, converting wind into electrical energy.

Writes the magazine: “Innovation can serve up unpredictable results. But the spirit of questioning why things are the way they are and how they can be improved lies at the very heart of progress. From the tool-making experiments of the earliest hunter-gatherers of the palaeolithic era to the controversial cloning of Dolly the sheep, innovation is pushing the boundaries of science, technology and medicine. What was science fiction only yesterday is quickly becoming science fact.”

There’s also an interview with Acer’s Stan Shih on Innovation. He is very bullish on Services being the next big thing. He says:

I see more room for innovation in services. If you look at IT over the past 20 years, most of the innovation was technology-driven. It’s not marketing-driven. The customer aspect of innovation is the future. If you want to make technology become more popular, it will take innovation in the services area. We have committed $300 million for the next five years to establish a research-and-development operation in services. My vision is that we can start very comprehensive customer-need research so an innovation can be a product, can be a new service, and also a new business model.

We established a new philosophy called mega-infrastructure-micro services. So we invest to build an infrastructure that includes the integration of a telecommunication network . . . and software platforms. Then we provide micro services . . . For example, the use of smart cards to pay for utilities. We also have an e-office program for small and medium-sized companies, so they don’t need their own MIS people. We offer virtual MIS services and can manage the office for them.

My personal view (very biased) is that the next big innovations will see computing being made available to the next hundreds of millions of users in the emerging markets. It is not about using the latest technologies, but seeing how best existing technologies can be integrated together to bring down the cost of computing by 90%.

China’s Growing Manufacturing Prowess

Writes Far Eastern Economic Review:

From General Electric to Samsung Electronics to Toshiba, as well as thousands of Chinese companies, manufacturers are finding that using China as an export base is often more profitable–and almost always far easier–than selling goods inside the country.

The result is that China, once viewed by wide-eyed executives as the market of future riches, is instead becoming the world’s factory floor. China’s often-devastating competitiveness is helping to redraw the global corporate landscape, forcing companies around the world to scrap old business strategies–and some businesses altogether–and to come up with new ways to compete.

One upshot of China’s emergence as a manufacturing powerhouse: It’s becoming an increasingly powerful global deflationary force. China’s manufacturing prowess is pushing down prices on a growing range of industrial, consumer and even agricultural products that it sells around the world.

Look at the stats the magazine quotes, stating that China [is] the world’s fourth-largest industrial producer behind the United States, Japan and Germany, [and] makes:
– more than 50% of the world’s cameras
– 30% of the world’s ACs and TVs
– 25% of the world’s washing machines
– nearly 20% of all refrigerators.

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Suprise Launch of Emergic Freedom

One of the delights of being an entrepreneur is how unpredictable days are. Yesterday had started off like any normal day. Everything changed quickly when a friend called in the morning referring to an article in the Economic Times on Open Source and Linux. It was the lead story on the front page. The story talked about the governments interest in making Linux a platform of choice based on a Chinese model to move away from proprietary software and cut costs. I jumped at the opportunity after all, our Thin Client-Thick Server solution (Emergic Freedom) did just that by leveraging older PCs and open-source software. So, I decided (in quick consultation with some of the team members) that we would do an ad in the paper (ET) today talking about Emergic Freedom.

To put this in context, just a couple days ago, I had decided to begin talking to prospective customers one-on-one, and leave advertising for later. But the front-page story changed all that, and I thought heres a great opportunity to get some mindshare for what we are doing in the context of what was talked about the previous day. How things change! We didnt even have our website ready, and neither did we have any ad, though I was working on getting the brochures ready.

So, in the space of a day, we had made up our ad (in consultation with our agency) which took off from the newspaper article (featuring a snippet of the headline). Have just spent all night getting our website (emergic.com) ready. The ad will be in the Mumbai edition of the EcoTimes today, and in Delhi and Bangalore tomorrow (Friday) since we were way past the deadline! Anyways, some good always comes out gives us an opportunity to make some changes, should we desire. Will put out the ad image shortly here.

Moments and epiphanies like these take thinking and momentum to a new level. It galvanized all of us in the company to action. What was going along has now been accelerated. I am not too optimistic of much of a response from the ad, but hope is what every entrepreneur lives on! Its a big spend for us (about Rs 3.5 lakhs USD 7,000). Lets see what happens. What I am happy about that is that weve got a lot accomplished in the past day, and that should help us move forward faster.

So, we are now on our way: Emergic Freedom has been launched. The first baby steps towards our vision building out the new enterprise infrastructure for SMEs and consumers in emerging markets is underway. And to think of it, even I didn’t know of this 24 hours ago!

TECH TALK: Technology’s Next Markets: PC’s Next Markets

Before we go ahead, let us take a look at the computer industry today, and why it finds itself in the doldrums. Technology is reaching its saturation points for many in the developed markets. Take sales of personal computers, for example. They are likely to grow an anemic 1% this year. Wrote John Markoff in an article recently in the New York Times (September 30, 2002):

For decades, [the personal computer industry] has relied on the certainty that customers have an unquenchable desire for speedier new machines. But computers have reached a point where for the most common home purposes Web surfing, e-mail and word processing they are already more than fast enough to suit a typical home user’s needs.

Amid the prolonged general economic downturn, sales of PC’s in the United States show no signs of reviving soon. Gartner estimates that the industry’s sales shrank last year by almost 5 percent after growing by 10 percent to 27 percent annually since 1990. This year promises to be just as bleak.

Nevertheless, Gartner analysts estimate that one billion personal computers will be sold in the next six years. At the same time, the market researchers acknowledge that their projected 9 percent annual growth rate will in the future be largely based on continued expansion of sales in the developing world.

Paul Otellini, Intel’s president and chief operating officer acknowledged that most of the incremental growth in the personal computer market since 2000 is already coming from what he calls “emerging markets” developing countries where there are now few computers.

“We believe that 50 percent of all the incremental units sold in the next five years will come from these markets,” he said. There are now about 500 million personal computers in the world, he said, and with the help of the emerging markets the industry, over a long period, could still expect to see double-digit growth outside the industrial world.

Taking together Gartners projection of a billion PC sales in the next six years and Otellinis estimate that half of all the next sales will come from the worlds emerging markets, this means that emerging markets will buy 500 million new computers in the next 6 years. This will happen for sure, but the question is will these computers have the latest Intel CPUs and Microsoft software each costing hundreds of dollars?

Emerging markets do not need 2 Ghz desktop computers. (I also believe with they do not need the small-footprint hand-held computers which are good for concept demonstrations but impractical for full-fledged daily use.) They need lower-priced, good-enough computers. And in the computer industry, it is not only difficult to buy lower-priced computers but also well nigh impossible to buy older software which can run on those machines. This is the strategy used very effectively by Intel and Microsoft. It has served them well in the developed markets, but it will not help them in computings next markets.

Tomorrow: Wave Theory

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