New Chips

Writes Business Week on the next generation of semiconductor technology: “The new wafers measure 300 millimeters (12 inches) across, which may not seem like much of a jump from today’s 200-mm (8-in.) wafers. But the 50% increase in diameter yields 2.25 times as much surface area for etching chips, yet costs only about 20% more to process. That will help ensure a continuing drop in chip prices for years to come–affecting prices for everything that depends on silicon.”

WiFi Leap

Writes NYT:

Vivato, a start-up company, plans to announce new antenna technology on Monday that it says can expand the limits of WiFi, a popular wireless Internet format, providing access to hundreds or even thousands of portable computer users at distances of more than 2,000 feet within buildings and about four miles outdoors.

The antenna uses the 802.11 technical standard, also known as Wi-Fi, which is currently limited to providing wireless Internet access to several dozen users within a few hundred feet of the transmitter. Wi-Fi is increasingly common in offices, airports, places like Starbucks shops and even in a growing number of households.

Executives for the start-up company, Vivato, based here, said they expected their technology to be especially suited to office buildings because it would enable so many more people to use a single Wi-Fi Internet connection simultaneously.
“We will change the way people think about the physics of Wi-Fi,” said Ken Beba, the chairman and chief executive of Vivato, which is across from the Pac Bell Park baseball stadium.

The Vivato technology, which stems from 1950’s research for so-called phased-array antennas for military applications, makes it possible to electronically steer numerous radio beams from a single point. Focusing the beams increases their signal strength, and using large numbers of them greatly increases the antenna’s traffic capacity.

Microsoft’s New Hurdles

Writes NYT:

The rise of the Internet has affected the technology industry in three main ways, each of which tends to discourage monopoly power. First, no single company controls the Internet’s crucial technical standards. Second, it is a low-cost technology and though essentially a communications technology, it has helped accelerate the advance of low-cost economics in computing generally. Third, as a decentralized technology, the Internet holds the promise of dispersing market power.

Today’s embodiment of the Internet threat to Microsoft is Linux, an increasingly popular operating system and a real potential rival to Microsoft’s Windows. The business problem of competing against Linux is far trickier for Microsoft than was thwarting the early Internet challenge from browsing software and Netscape Communications, the commercial pioneer in browsers.

This time, for example, the competitive weapons in the Microsoft arsenal will be fewer because a federal appeals court has ruled that the bullying of industry partners and rivals to protect its monopoly was illegal. And Linux, an operating system written and updated by a worldwide community of volunteer programmers and distributed free, is a more elusive target. It already has broad industry support, and no single company stands behind it.

The Linux strategy is to undercut Microsoft, just as Microsoft was once regarded as a leading practitioner of low-cost economics in pricing its personal computer operating systems for high-volume sales.

Brian Behlendorf, a leader in the open-source development community, says the advance of Linux may well force Microsoft to take a drastic step to meet the competition. “My prediction is that within three years time, Microsoft will `give away’ its operating system to preserve its revenue in the applications business,” Mr. Behlendorf said.

Microsoft Case

There has a lot of talk on Friday’s judgement in the Microsoft case. Frankly, I feel we are missing the point. What has happened is fait accompli. What companies have to do is to look ahead. The marketplace is the ultimate judge. Microsoft can be beaten – companies have to innovate, listen to their customers, and open up new markets. Microsoft’s size means that it will not initially go after smaller markets or do anything to upset its gravy train of profits. That is where the opportunities for emerging software companies lie.

Microsoft has only won the battle for the world’s first 500 million customers.Sure, it starts off in a strong position for Technology’s Next Markets, but it is not guaranteed success. This is what we must look at. Think Clay Christensen’s “The Innovator’s Dilemma”.

Connecting Information

Writes Dan Gillmor:

Technologists have given us terrific ways to store our everyday data, with disk capacities doubling every year or so. They’ve also done well in helping us find, in simple ways, some of the relevant information we need.

But we need more sophisticated methods for gathering, massaging and making connections among all the pieces of information that enter our lives each day — everything from e-mail to Web pages to phone numbers and more. So when I see useful tools, I pay attention.

The tools that Dan talks about in his article:
Grokker
Find
iData Pro

Cranium

Inside the Smartest Little Company in America was the title of a cover story in Inc magazine in Jan 2002. Something reminded me of Cranium recently…I have played the game only once, but it was a fantastic fun-filled afternoon. The game is so full of life – very much unlike other games I have played.

Cranium is the first start-up for Whit Alexander and Richard Tait, but they have approached the venture as a game of skill, not luck, and are planning every move with a deliberateness and stated ambition rare even in serial entrepreneurs. Aware that they lacked experience both as company builders and in the toy industry, the cofounders have borrowed from the best, adapting marketing tactics from such industry greats as the makers of Trivial Pursuit and Pictionary and borrowing product-development strategies from Microsoft. At the same time, they have made smartly counterintuitive decisions about distribution and talent that seem to guarantee a steady stream of genuinely new and distinctive products.

Not surprisingly for a couple of guys whose products celebrate the kaleidoscope of human ingenuity, Tait and Alexander are at least as proud of their company’s smarts as they are of its success. “Making the money is great, of course,” says Tait, “but there are awards and then there are rewards. Our survival and success will come from optimizing fun, focus, passion, and profits. That takes smarts, and we thrive on that.”

Read the quote by Tait again. Many a time, we think that spending money compensates for effort and thinking. It never does. The challenge lies in innovating and being creative, and becoming profitable with the least money spend. In today’s world, as entrepreneurs, we will probably always have less resources than the bigger, established players. But we can more than make up for that with, as Tait puts it, our “fun, focus, passion and smarts”.

TECH TALK: Good Books: Books and I

Since time immemorial, the written word in the form of books has been used to spread knowledge. Todays world is no different. Even with the choice of multiple media like television and the Internet, there is nothing better than spending an afternoon reading a good book. As newspaper and magazine articles tend to get shorter (and in some cases, dumber), the book remains the best way to expand ones horizons. In our instant and real-time present, there is something about a book which slows time as one is transported into the world of new ideas and characters created by the author.

Books are not limited by space as newspapers and magazines are, or by time as television stories are. Because books do not distract with ads or visuals, they allow the formation of images of our own. In that sense, books are the ultimate personalised experience. Each of us has our memories about our favourite books, especially the time when we read them first. They take us back to our past, becoming synonymous with memories of an era gone by.

My earliest memories of books are the Famous Five, Secret Seven and Hardy Boys series. I remember going to the local library every week and picking up the books, and then anxiously waiting for time between school studies to read them. They helped nourish my language and fed the imagination. Those adventures became my own. Books and I started a friendship which has endured ever since.

Next came Agatha Christies Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple, and Arthur Conan Doyles Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson. Every story, every book enveloped me in its own mystery. Along similar lines was Erle Stanley Gardners Perry Mason series. The goal in reading all remained the same could I solve the mystery before the end of the book. The authors inevitably outwitted me, and that made me read the next in the series hoping that the next time, Ill be smarter!

Somewhere along the line, PG Wodehouse took over. The delectable wit of Jeeves and the inimitable Bertie Wooster meant that every book just had to read and re-read. The subtle humour, the tricky situations, the wonderful language this was English literature at its best for me. I still remember going to Strand Book Shop in Mumbai hunting for the PGs that one had somehow missed!

One of my regrets is that I did not read much from Indian authors. I only read a little of RK Narayan. Perhaps, there is still time to go back to them. I dont know why I read less about India maybe, I wanted my images of India to be self-formed. I do remember reading Vikram Seths tome, A Suitable Boy. For the hype it had generated, I couldnt but feel disappointed.

My four-year stint at IIT reinforced my love for books. Maybe, it was because books were more easily accessible (through hostel mates and the well-stocked library). Or, perhaps, because one always had plenty of time: skipping (boring) lectures on Electrical Engineering, spending the time reading a book and then discussing it with friends later in the evening was seen as cool.

Tomorrow: Books and I (continued)