Bill Gates in India

Bill Gates visited India last week, gave USD 100 million to fight AIDS and announced an investment of USD 400 million for various Microsoft initiatives – in education, setting up Academies, doing .Net projects, and growing its Hyderabad centre. [Business Week story: Bill Gates’s Indian Coronation]

What is not clear is how much of the USD 400 million is in cash and how much is in the form of Microsoft products.

The by-products of the visit:
– Indians see Bill Gates as a messiah for all the problems facing us
– No one in a position of power or influence wants to talk Linux and open-source, because their eyes are on the USD 400 million
– Indians feel greatly obliged to Gates for his contribution to the IT sector, and are therefore trying to fall over backwards to see how they can help him
– Few, if any, bothered to listen to Richard Stallman of the Free Software Foundation [more]

We are so short-sighted. We confuse Bill Gates’ USD 100 million AIDS philanthropy (which is very good) and his USD 400 million plan to conquer the Indian software market (which we think is also philanthropy). Microsoft is making the investment to control three key sectors in India: education, government and banking. They are among the most critical – the first for its influence in creating the next set of programmers (who Microsoft wants to raise on Windows) and the other two for their spending power.

India had a great opportunity to show the world its mettle: it should have rejected Gates’ largesse for education, and made a forthright announcement on using Linux and open-source in its schools. That would have set an example of leadership worldwide among emerging markets. But for some little near-term gains (which may or may not materialise), we are mortgaging the future. The education sector is critical – what Microsoft wants to do is to hardwire Windows and Office in the curriculum. A few years ago, with the alternatives not being good enough, one could have understood that. But now, there is no excuse.

Use Microsoft products for the international market when we do services, but when it comes to domestic decisions where cost is a very important consideration, India must go the open-source way. We need cost-effective computing solutions to make computing available to all – in the words of Bill Gates, “have a computer on every desk and in every home”. India’s strong stance on open-source would have forced Microsoft’s hand, and perhaps, made it reduce pricing on products for India and other emerging markets. Instead, we are only strengthening its hand, and jeopordising the very base that India needs to be more competitive in the future.

Full credit to Microsoft and Bill Gates: they’ve mastered the art of selling and “crossing the last mile”. I can think of no other industry where the buyers travel from all over and go to the seller from all over the country with blank cheques in return for a photo-op or a handshake or a sales pitch!

Office 11 and XML

Jon Udell talks to Jean Paoli on XML in Office 11:

On mining back-end data:

Paoli: “When we started XML, I wanted to focus on the server side, because we needed infrastructure. We needed data. Now, it’s achieved. All the back ends support XML — ERP systems, SAP, Siebel can output XML. And now I can pop that data into Excel, directly. I’m the most thrilled by the overall Office vision, which is to enable end-users to create XML. But we don’t even have to wait for that to use all the analysis features of Excel on existing XML data. It’s a big gift to the XML community.”

Udell: Agreed. Every database can now deliver query results as XML. Having done my fair share of analysis of such data in Excel, I can attest to the breakthrough that Excel 11 represents. Sure, shredding the result of a SQL Server “FOR XML” query is just a simple matter of XSLT programming. But that isn’t very productive. When you suck raw XML data into Excel 11, the XPath expressions that target elements are written for you, and subsetting and rearranging the data reduces to dragging XML-mapped elements onto the spreadsheet. It’s a huge win.

On the right tool for the job:

Paoli: “All our tools are XML editors now: Word, Excel, XDocs. But we shouldn’t think about XML editors, we should think about the task at hand. If I want to create documents with a lot of text, that’s Word. With XDocs, the task is to gather information in structured form. And with Excel, it’s to analyze information. We have this great toolbox which enables you to analyze data. We can do pie charts, pivot tables, I don’t know how many years of development of functionality for analyzing data. So we said, now we are going to feed Excel all the XML files that you can find in nature.”

Udell: Leveraging the strengths of the tools was clearly the right way to add XML support to Office. In Version 11, Word and Excel can still do everything they used to be able to do, only now they can do those things with XML data. It’s a huge advance. However, I’m still hungry for XML authoring support in the tools that I spend most of my day using, and that you probably do too: the browser and the e-mail client. If the goal is to enrich as much user data as possible, the browser’s TEXTAREA widget and the e-mail client’s message composer are arguably the most strategic targets for XML authoring support.

Wireless Internet

Writes NYTimes: “The next industry cycle may revolve around a wireless data technology known as Wi-Fi, which has the potential to eventually let anyone with a computer or computing device connect to the Internet at high speeds, without cables.”

More:

Like the Web, which flourished into an entirely new medium created atop the freely accessible communications standards of the Internet, Wi-Fi has a similar starting point. It has been made possible because the federal government decided a few years ago to set aside a small swath of unlicensed radio frequencies and allow everyone who followed a simple set of rules to share them among themselves.

Just as the Web opened the Internet to innovative information providers and hundreds of millions of users by making the network easier to use, Wi-Fi, proponents predict, will make possible many innovations by making the Internet easier to connect to at speeds comparable to today’s fastest digital phone lines or cable modem hook-ups. The next big wave in applications is likely to be “location aware” communications whether conveniences like directions to the nearest restaurant or movie theater, or intrusions like neighborhood spam that will assault Web surfers as they sit in coffee shops or stoll down the street.

In an otherwise bleak Silicon Valley, Wi-Fi and its anytime, anywhere Internet capabilities now stand out as the one area in which there is now a fresh burst of entrepreneurial and technical creativity.

“This feels like the opening of the PC era when for the first time you could own your own computer,” said Ken Biba, the chief executive of Vivato, the company with the odd-looking antenna. “With Wi-Fi you can own your own communications. That’s a profound social change.”

Finding Blogs

WSJ writes on finding blogs in its “The Best Way To…”:

To find a blog that matches your interests, try starting with a community blog, a general site where people post their commentary on all sorts of topics. What makes them useful for blog searchers is that many of the people who post items on these sites have blogs of their own, so if you find something interesting, you can check out the blogger’s personal site. One of the most popular of such community blogs is MetaFilter.com, which frequently displays 25 or more new postings a day, with links and comments from readers

The article has links to many directories. Missing: our BlogStreet.

Sun’s Plans

From Business Week (cover story):

McNealy has a plan, one that he says will lift Sun not only back to profits but to the apex of the Information Economy. At the heart of the plan is Sun’s classic franchise: heavy research and top-of-the-line computer systems. In a world of specialty players, Sun is a rare bird that designs its own chips and writes its own server software and computer chips. And McNealy’s sticking to his integrated model. He’s pouring research dollars into network software. His goal, stunningly ambitious, is to have Sun servers and Sun software running superefficient networks of the future–marvels that run virtually free of human attention.

At the heart of McNealy’s vision is an ambitious software project called N1. Sun’s software developers have been working on the technology for two years, tucked away in a space-age data center at Sun’s Sunnyvale (Calif.) facility. The idea is to create vast networks in which the software administers itself. If one computer runs out of memory, the software seeks spare capacity elsewhere on the network. If the software develops a glitch, the program itself will work to fix it, without calling on costly human administrators. Sun will be releasing the first components of the program by the end of the year.

The trouble is, McNealy must invest heavily in N1 just to stay in step with competitors. IBM and HP are hard at work on very similar systems. On Oct. 30, IBM CEO Samuel J. Palmisano told customers that he was betting the future of his company on a vast, N1-type project called “on-demand computing.” He’s investing billions to develop new products and will spend $800 million on the marketing. And although HP CEO Carleton S. Fiorina keeps it quiet, HP’s version of N1, called Utility Data Center, already has 450 engineers behind it and 10 customers in pilot projects.

Windows’ 85% Margin

From NYTimes: “Microsoft has revealed for the first time that it has made profit margins of 85 per cent on its Windows system while its remaining businesses made losses, raising questions about the benefits of the group’s costly efforts at diversification. The client division, which markets Windows, generated operating profits last quarter of $2.48bn on revenues of $2.89bn, implying margins of 85 per cent.”

Some other figures:

Among Microsoft’s other businesses, the home and entertainment di vision, which includes the Xbox games console, lost $177m in the quarter on revenues of $505m. Salomon Smith Barney estimates it loses about $120 on each console it sells.

MSN, the internet service provider and portal, lost $97m, down from losses of $199m in the same quarter last year, on revenues up from $431m to $531m.

The business solutions group, which provides software for small and medium-sized businesses and includes recent acquisitions Great Plains of the US and Navision of Denmark, lost $68m on revenues of $107m.

And the CE/Mobility division, which includes mobile telephone software and the Windows CE operating system for handheld computers, lost $33m on revenues of $17m.

The Information Worker division (which comprises MS-Office) had revenues of USD 2.38 billion, with profits of USD 1.88 billion (79%). Adds News.com: “The business units making up Windows and Office brought in $4.88 billion in profits for Microsoft. But $830 million in losses for the four other divisions reduced earnings to $4.05 billion, according to Microsoft’s 10-Q.”

TECH TALK: India Post: Ideas for Tomorrow: The Story of Nayapur

Nayapur is the face of the New India. As a village it may be small, but that in no way represents the aspirations of its people. Life in Nayapur has been transformed ever since India Post set up its Tech 7-11 computer and communications centre a year ago. The Nayapur Post Office has 10 computers, 3 of them multimedia-enabled. They are connected to a Server, and on to the Internet via the India Post Network. The ten client computers are no ordinary computers they are of mid-1990s vintage, Pentium class machines, running at 200-300 Mhz, with 16 /32 MB RAM, and without a hard disk, CD-ROM drive or floppy disk! Many residents of Nayapur have TV-PCs in their homes, which connect to the Server at the Post Office over wireless. The local Police Station, Panchayat office, bank, school all have similar, old diskless computers which connect wirelessly to the Post Office server for their computing and storage needs. This is the amazing story of how these old computers running open-source software with full support for local languages combined with the Will, Vision and Entrepreneurial Thinking of the India Post team to transform the lives of the residents of Nayapur. The story takes you through a day in the life of one family in Nayapur.

Pitaji, Mataji, Gautam, Ganga and Gauri live in Nayapur. Pitaji works on the farm. Mataji is a home-maker, and runs a small enterprise which is a Lijjat Pappad franchisee. Their son, Gautam, works in a call centre in a nearby village, coming home only on the weekends. Gauri, their daughter, is in the ninth standard at the local school. Ganga, Gautam’s wife, teaches at the same school.

Pitaji wakes up in the morning and walks up to his computer. Old habits have long since died. Pitaji now drinks his morning cup of tea in front of the computer, which uses their TV as its monitor. He opens up his Digital Dashboard and checks for the latest updates on his favourite sites. From his list of bookmarks, he clicks through to read his personalised Hindi newspaper Mera Krishi Dainik. It gives him the local news, updates in the world of agricultural technologies, commodity prices and his local weather. He is especially interested in the classifieds, as he is seeking to buy a used tractor at a good price. He also checks out another bookmarked site, AgriDigest.com, a community weblog of various farmers like him, who use it to share interesting stories and ideas, and discuss ways to improve production. Ever since Gauri showed him the site a few months ago, it has become his favourite website, primarily because it keeps him connected with the agriculturalists community from other parts of India. Pitaji also checks his email he notes that he needs to pay the electricity bill. By now, Gauri has woken up. She helps Pitaji fill out an online form at AgriBank requesting a loan for the purchase of the tractor.

Gauri then takes over the computer, and accesses her schools Educational Dashboard to see her teachers comments on the homework she had submitted the previous day. She notes that her class has been given a new assignment for which she has to visit the Post Office it requires her to use some multimedia features. Gautam is also online from his home, so she chats with him via the Instant Messenger for a few minutes.

Tomorrow: The Story of Nayapur (continued)

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