Will Open Source Ever Become Mainstream? is the topic for a discussion thread on Slashdot initiated by this comment from Prabhu Ramachandran: “I am a graduate student at the University of California at Berkeley and as part of a course project I am trying to gather comments on the following question: Will the Open Source and Free Software communities develop software that will find widespread adoption amongst the mainstream, or is such software, by its nature, suitable only for sophisticated users? As part of my literature survey I found an academic perspective that seemed to indicate that open source projects do not reach the mainstream because the developers tend to listen only to their smartest customers. There also seems to be a lack of detailed documentation and an easy-to-use interface which normally attract the not-so-sophisticated users.”
There is a very interesting point here: Microsoft talks to and listens to its most-ignorant users (who comprose the mainstream), while open-source seems to be listening to its smartest customers (who make up the early adopters).
This is a very crucial point to remember as we seek to create solutions to target the next 500 million computer users. People like us (so-called power users) should not be the influencers of what goes into the solution.
ZDNet provides a good overview of OpenOffice. Conclusion: “OpenOffice.org is a valid stand-in for Microsoft Office for anyone looking to save a great deal of money. If you’re confident that your users fall into the category of those who use only 5 percent of Microsoft Office’s feature set (a majority of the computing world), making the switch to OpenOffice.org shouldn’t be a problem. If, however, you know you have users who must exchange embedded objects with Microsoft Office users, your best bet is to stick with Microsoft Office until the gents at OpenOffice.org are able to get their suite to play well with Microsoft Object linking and embedding (OLE).”
Writes Jakob Nielsen on a study conducted on Intranet designs:
In our study, we found that a lack of good management support for intranets had a great impact on quality. In particular, companies with ailing intranet usability rarely had a well-funded central intranet group with clear ownership of the design. Instead, they typically had many intranets that were not unified by a single navigation system with a single starting point.
When interviewing intranet designers, our sense was that intranets were often given lower priority than the corporate website. With all due respect for customer-facing design, the idea that it’s a promotion to be transferred from the intranet to the dot-com team hurts company productivity.
Productivity was also injured by an overemphasis on branding at some companies. People already work at the company; there is no need to sell them or hype up features. In particular, usability was always best when features had plain, descriptive labels rather than catchy, made-up names. On the positive side, visual design was typically clean and restrained, without the excesses often found on public websites.
Intranet teams can only accomplish so much through heroic efforts. Management must give them the budget to buy necessary software, to develop design standards and conduct usability studies, and to write content and implement tools that help employees increase their productivity. Intranet teams
Marc Canter builds on the concept of moblogging:
One way to do all this is to tie in messaging (as we know it today), multimedia (Justin talks about photos, but we could also include audio posts or even voice-to-text transcrptions) – and use all the power of RSS, OPML, XML-RPC, Jabber, http and tcp/ip to create a network of tools, services and functionality – that will create new kinds of on-line communities.
Knowing whether or not my friends are on-line is just the beginning. I wanna know what they’re up to today (with shared ‘To Do’ lists), I wanna know what they think of particular notions or concepts – as I’m having in real-time or in the middle of a real-space conversation – (so I can include them in the rap…..) and I wanna keep these cloud members abreast of my travels, what I’m seeing and what I’m feeling.
I also wanna have my cloud members connect me to other clouds. This notion of intersecting clouds is how meta-communities will form – not only based about similar affinities, poltiical beliefs or proximity, but also form the basis of the ultimate six degrees mesh, one that connects news, creative expression, science and education together – in what (I think) we all hope the web will evolve into.
So my notion of moblogging – actually goes beyond just news gathering. I see it as a new fundamental form of expression. Why stop with news? Why not extend it to:
– check out this amazing sunset and the poem it’s inspired….
– here’s a new song I wrote, inspired by that hottie I just saw walking down the street….
– here’s a brainstorming notion – or new concept – which just appeared in my head and I wanted to share it with you all
– listen to this song, now think about xxxx, now what do YOU feel – at this moment?
These sort of new kinds of interaction and collaboration are endless! A mesh-like system like this, combining messaging, blogging, cell phones, and the web – would be extended in real space by one’s MP3 players, digital camera and PDA. When you ‘got home’ – you’d then ‘jack into’ your Home LAN and connect to your desktop PC and your broadband connection, as well as your TV set, PVR and other stereo components – forming the basis of your ‘digital lifestyle’.
Not only should we be able to connect our on-line cloud members together into a new notion of an on-line community, but also connect disparate on-line communities together.
Quotes from C.J. Rayhill , O’Reilly’s COO and and executive vice president of technology (in an InfoWorld interview):
We are extensive users of what we call LAMP technologies. We have a lot of Linux, Apache, MySQL, PERL, and Python type of applications that run here. We make use of open-source office productivity tools like StarOffice or OpenOffice. We use Jabber as an instant messaging capability within our company. SSA, Sendmail — you name it, we use it. Now on the desktop basis, about half of our desktops are laptops. We’re a fairly mobile workforce — I think we have a little over ten percent of our workforce that are telecommuters or virtual employees. So that presents an interesting challenge. Currently the breakdown of our desktops are: Windows about 75 percent of our desktops, Linux about 10 percent, and Mac about 15 percent, and growing, I might add.
XML certainly is a big one for us and [so are] its applications in business and Web services. We definitely think that the network is the computer now. You just look at an environment like the Internet and the vast amount of information available to you out there, and instead of writing spidering types of programs or things that are fairly brittle, to go out and assimilate information together, we really think that the next big frontier is in the Web services area. Wireless is something we keep on top of a lot; that seems to be changing fairly consistently. We are extensive users of wireless technology ourselves.
The first India built on its Independence to become agriculturally self-sufficient and feed its own people. The second India produces more software engineers than any other country and is a force to reckon with in the world of outsourced technology services. And yet, the technology revolution has touched but a handful. Much of India still remains frozen in time. For India to progress, Indians have to progress. For Indians to progress, technology has to become a utility for the masses.
The installed base of computers is 7 million for a population of 1 billion. Annual computer sales are stagnating at between 1.5-2 million since 2000. New computers still cost more than Rs 25,000, with the basic additional software (MS-Windows, MS-Office and anti-virus) costing an additional Rs 25,000. There are only about 6 million Internet connections in India, even as an hour of connectivity still costs more than Rs 30.
Imagine a New India. A million computing and communications centres, each with 10 or more computers connected to the Internet, dot the landscape, making them accessible to everyone across the country. Every Indian is computer-literate, and can email, browse the Internet and compose letters. Citizens can make bill payments, obtain ration cards, check land records, and do other interactions with the government easily and efficiently. Computers in small- and medium-sized companies make them real-time enterprises, ensuring instant updation of information and making them integral parts of global supply chains.
What separates the dream of a New India from the reality of today is the digital divide. It is this rubicon that we have to cross, this divide that we have to bridge. Even as we think of India, the same challenge is present in every other emerging market. There is an opportunity one last opportunity for them to use technology to leapfrog into the New World provided we leverage existing and emerging information and communications technologies smartly.
This opportunity will come through leveraging disruptive innovations.
Tomorrow: Disruptive Innovations