Sims Online

Oversimulated Suburbia is the title of a story in the New York Times Magazine about the online version of the Sims, which releases next month:

You install the Sims on your computer and you begin the game, and what do you see? A subdivision. There’s a little ranch home over here, a colonial over there, a larger McMansion up the hill. And the object of the game? Suburban conquest in its rawest form. You’ve got to get the kids scrubbed and fed by the time the school bus comes around in the morning. You have to select the right coffee table to go with your love seat. You have to remember to turn off the TV if you want to take a nap, because the noise will keep you up. There’s no winning and losing in the Sims. No points, no end. In the game, as in life, you just keep doing the dishes until you die.

It’s all about time management. You want to throw a dinner party for your friends, and you’d also like to do some gardening, but you’ve got to take out the garbage and pick up the paper from the front yard, and you notice your bladder is alarmingly full and you won’t be at your best unless you head to the bathroom to relieve yourself. This is the epic heroism of everyday life! The most mundane tasks — the ones that actually bore the hell out of you in reality — come at you in the computer game with relentless insistence, and if you are going to be a happy Sim, master of your tract home, lord of your lawn, sultan of your suburb, you have to get organized. You have to impose order on chaos. You have to stay cool and go with the flow. In this way you can achieve split-level greatness.

I’d love to create an online game on the lines of the Sims for SMEs. They can create virtual enterprises (or even mirrors of their own companies), try out ideas, learn management, launch new products, and meet and interact with other SMEs.

Amazon and Google Web Services

Writes News.com:

Amazon, Google and other Web companies have begun giving developers direct access to their databases so developers can create their own “front doors” and other paths to information, such as book listings and search results. These custom APIs (application programming interfaces) allow developers to tailor such content to their specific needs.

Google is giving developers direct access to its search database, bypassing its Web site and allowing them to design their own ways to use the valuable technology. Amazon has allowed similar access to its inventory database, releasing free developer kits that have enabled others to produce faster searches of “light” versions of the company’s catalog, as well as other experiments.

The sidebar on the page has a collection of various applications created by developers using these web services.

Tim O’Reilly writes: “While I applaud Microsoft’s efforts with .Net (including many aspects of My Services), because they really have been innovating and reaching for the future, trying to build a true “internet operating system”, I also believe very strongly that we want that operating system to work a lot more like Unix/Linux and the Internet than like today’s single-vendor GUI operating systems. That is, we want a system with a simple architecture that allows many players to contribute their own components, without having to ask permission, and with a minimum of control by any one party.”

Moblogging and MyLifeBits

Writes Justin Hall (The Feature) on the Mobile Blog:

A weblog is a record of travels on the Web, so a mobile phone log (moblog?) should be a record of travels in the world. Weblogs reflect our lives at our desks, on our computers, referencing mostly other flat pages, links between blocks of text. But mobile blogs should be far richer, fueled by multimedia, more intimate data and far-flung friends. As we chatter and text away, our phones could record and share the parts we choose: a walking, talking, texting, seeing record of our time around town, corrected and augmented by other mobloggers.

If we can protect our privacy and trust data networks, then we might find that some of our daily activities would be enhanced by sharing them, both with our circle of friends around the Web, and the people nearby with like minds. Each of our moblogs, our mobile information profiles and archives, could search people in the area for compatible data. Think of it as a Web search on the real world. The results would be constant, part of conversation, tracked by your moblog.

A wider perspective on this concept comes from New Scientist on a project beng done by Microsoft where “engineers are working on software to load every photo you take, every letter you write – in fact your every memory and experience – into a surrogate brain that never forgets anything.” More:

Microsoft argues that our memories often deceive us: experiences get exaggerated, we muddle the timing of events and simply forget stuff. Much better, says the firm, to junk such unreliable interpretations and instead build a faithful memory on that most reliable of entities, the PC.

Bell and his colleagues developed MyLifeBits as a surrogate brain to solve what they call the “giant shoebox problem”. “In a giant shoebox full of photos, it’s hard to find what you are looking for,” says Microsoft’s Jim Gemmell. Add to this the reels of home movies, videotapes, bundles of letters and documents we file away, and remembering what we have, let alone finding it, becomes a major headache.

Of course the system takes up a huge amount of memory. But Bell’s group calculates that within five years, a 1000-gigabyte hard drive will cost less than $300 – and that is enough to store four hours of video every day for a year.

Although MyLifeBits is essentially a large database, it could gradually become a repository for many of our experiences. Now that many mobile devices contain photomessaging cameras, you could save everyday events onto the system.

Office as next Battleground

Microsoft’s Battle Lines Shifting to Office?, asks InternetNews.com:

The new OASIS Open Office XML Format Technical Committee will base its work off of the XML file format specification designed by Sun for its OpenOffice.org 1.0 project — an open source office productivity suite which Sun hopes will help it break open Microsoft’s grip on the office productivity application market.

“Our goal is to achieve consensus on an open standard that will protect content — whether it is an 800-page airplane specification or a legal contract — from being locked into a proprietary file format,” said Sun’s Michael Brauer, chair of the new technical committee. “A standard method for processing and interchanging office documents will enable companies to own their data and freely choose tools to view and edit information long after originating applications have come and gone.”

That appears to be a direct assault on the XML-based technology Microsoft has been developing for the forthcoming Office 11 update of its Office applications family. By using XML throughout the Office suite, Microsoft aims to make content generated in the applications fully portable from application to application.

“Microsoft’s vision for Office 11 is to seamlessly connect the information worker to the different islands of data in the enterprise, whether the data is contained in Microsoft Word documents, email messages, an internal company database, or even an external third-party database,” Jean Paoli, the XML architect at Microsoft and a co-creator of the W3C’s XML 1.0 specification, said in October.

“Microsoft sees Office as the “ultimate” rich client for XML and Web Services on the desktop, and they’re right,” said Ronald Schmelzer, senior analyst with XML and Web services research firm ZapThink. “They are going to be turning Office 11 into more than just a suite of office applications, but into a productivity center that most people can run their daily operations off of. Excel, Outlook, Word, and PowerPoint serve the basis for most individual’s daily tasks in any case.”

He added, “So, clearly, Sun, Corel, the Linux folks, and anyone else with desktop aspirations sees this trend as poisonous to their own efforts. They don’t want Microsoft to get any more hold on the market than they currently have, and by controlling the “format,” they believe they can control the features. Basically, if Microsoft can’t come out with some proprietary feature that is supported by the data format, then their innovation will be stifled. Obviously, Microsoft doesn’t want to kow-tow with any group that could potentially stifle their innovation.

Windows and Office are the two cash cows for Microsoft. Both are coming under threat – from Linux and OpenOffice/StarOffice. The Office franchise is more important for Microsoft long-term as its lock on the file formats and documents gives it the base to penetrate the enterprise software market.

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Open-source CMS

From ZDNet: “Content management, by its very nature, requires a degree of customization, and by having access to the source code, developers can do things like add support for a unique content type right into the codebase–an option not possible with proprietary tools…Here’s a look at some of the issues enterprises need to evaluate when looking at open-source CMS products, and how four of the main open-source contenders–Zope, Midgard, OpenCms, and Red Hat CCM–stack up.”

For Emergic, we need to get a good CMS. Should look at these.

Glenn Reynolds

Gelnn Reynolds of InstaPundit.com is the top blogger on BlogStreet.com. His keynote address at a recent conference was blogged by Denise Howell. Some personal observations:

Glenn just sort of started his blog, emailed some friends. Thought it would be fun. This is the first time he’s tried to run something that was meant to be read regularly. Hoped to get a couple of hundred quality readers; wound up getting a lot more. It helps him teach, relate to students. Increases the knowledge he can pass along as an instructor. Discussion re importance of referrer id’s in the weblog world; how you learn new things from people you’ve never heard of when they link to you and you go visit their site. Has emphasized for Glenn the real value of free speach. When you get a lot of traffic and a lot of email from people, you cannot help but be stunned by how smart people are, and the academic world on the whole does not have sufficient appreciation of this. The openness is impressive.

China’s Rising Power Worries Asia

Writes NYTimes:

Regardless of Beijing’s efforts to soothe sensitivities, Asian neighbors sense that China’s growing strength will cause traumatic shifts in power. A stronger China will undercut the pre-eminence of Japan, challenge America’s role as regional overseer and rewrite Southeast Asia’s economic and political course.

Just like the US, China is emerging as both an economic and military power. Could China be the next superpower? Will it consider itself this? Will this imperil its economic growth in an inter-dependent world? These are questions which only time will answer.

TECH TALK: Disruptive Bridges: The Digital Divide

The technological divide in the world runs deep. Even as the developed markets are awash, even satiated with computers, the worlds developing markets have very low penetrations. China has an installed base of less than 30 million computers, India about 8 million. Both have populations in excess of 1 billion. (On the other hand, Chinas 180 million cellphones dwarf Indias 10 million.)

The hard truth about computing technology is that it has not made itself affordable to the developing world. Pricing continues to be dollar-denominated, creating a market only at the top of the pyramid. Take for example, Microsoft Windows and Office. Together, they cost in excess of USD 500 (Rs 25,000) which may be small amount in the US but is definitely not an insignificant sum for most users (and even enterprises) in the developing countries.

So, even as the developed nations have adopted computing and raced ahead in terms of productivity, the developing countries are faced with a Hobsons choice: spend a lot of money in dollars to make computing part of their DNA, or stay away and risk being left behind. For the most part, consumers and enterprises have chosen the second option.

The obvious solution a reduction in the cost of computing to affordable levels has not happened, because it does not benefit the primary players Intel and Microsoft. Intel spends a lot on its fabs and needs to keep getting users to upgrade every few years to its faster chips. Microsoft runs margins of 85% for its Windows software division, and that is not a gravy train it would like to see slowing anytime soon because it uses profits from this and its information worker division (MS-Office and other applications) to plough into new markets.

Other computer companies like IBM and Dell can do little if the cost of components does not fall. IBM has set up a super services organization, but its focus is on the worlds large enterprises and reducing their complexity of computing. Dell sells what Intel and Microsoft make. Nokia leads on the cellphone front, but the new generation of pricey smartphones are targeted at the current generation of computer users, and not the have-nots.

Developing countries have very limited resources to undertake R&D for developing their own computing solutions. And so, the digital divide persists. Even as the next generation of computing and communications devices takes shape, there is little solace for the non-consumers of computing in the worlds emerging markets. If anything, the digital divide seems set to multiply.

Tomorrow: India 3.0

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