Reverse Globalisation

Lee Gomes in WSJ:

The process of globalization typically is presumed to be a one-way street, with America, by dint of its economic and cultural power, slowly refashioning other nations in its own, somewhat crass, image.

There is, though, a technology-enabled “reverse globalization” occurring, in which ideas from the rest of the world are swimming upstream into America. I don’t pretend that this opposing current is anywhere near as strong as the main one, but I do think it is helping to reshape this country in potentially significant ways.

The Internet is perhaps the most obvious agent for this reversal process. For example, I am sure I am not the only one these days who regularly goes online to read newspapers from abroad. And Web sites such as Google feature overseas dispatches about breaking stories. Often, the difference in perspective is obvious.

More striking, though, is the number of Americans who now watch television that originates abroad, taking advantage of the international programming packages that are increasingly common from satellite and cable TV companies.

If you drive through any neighborhood of new immigrants in any U.S. city, the sort of neighborhood where you see shops with Korean or Greek or Hindi writing outside, you can be sure that upstairs, people are watching television in those languages, too.

America is a nation of immigrants, and the time-worn pattern is for succeeding generations to speak more and more English. By the time the third generation rolls around, children often can’t understand their grandparents.

In the past, there were few ways in which the native language was reinforced. What will happen now that there is constant native-language television — news, music videos, talk shows, soap operas — from back home?

One possibility, of course, is that this will create a nation of balkanized ethnic tribes, with no sense of common citizenship, as seems to be happening in much of Northern Europe. On the other hand, Americans may have something to teach the world about being hyphenated citizens: Italian-Americans, African-Americans, etc. It’s not one or the other, but both.

It would serve the country well to have a significant population of bilingual citizens who, while firmly grounded in America, also have a deep interest in another part of the world.

Microsoft’s Campaign against Open Source

Writes WSJ:

Open-source fans believe Microsoft is bringing its political power to bear because it sees a market threat to its desktop-software monopoly. But in some cases, Microsoft’s appeals have fallen on deaf ears. Last year, according to people familiar with the situation, Microsoft objected “vigorously” when the super-secret National Security Agency developed a secure version of Linux and then posted it on the NSA Web site for anyone to download. But NSA didn’t back down and the software is still available.

In the developing world, where free software like Linux may have its greatest appeal, Linux advocates say they have “noticed that Microsoft has made a substantial portion of their quote ‘gifts’ to developing nations that have indicated a strong preference for open-source software,” says Mark Webbink, general counsel of Red Hat Inc., a Raleigh, N.C., company that sells versions of Linux.

In India, where at least one state government endorsed Linux recently, Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates last month announced a $400 million gift of donated software and business-development aid.

In South Africa, a Microsoft offer to provide software for 32,000 schools came just days after that country’s National Advisory Council on Innovation called for the government to adopt open-source software to build local programming skills and avoid sending hard currency to the U.S. to pay for Windows. Nhlanhla Mabaso, a government chief information officer, says that while the free software from Microsoft is tempting, “Personally, I believe this is not good for South Africa.”

The battle is on for the hearts and minds of computing’s next users. This is where Linux and open-source software stand their best chance. This is also what Emergic is focused on.

IBM v Microsoft

The IBM-Microsoft software rivalry is the focus of a NYTimes story. The article follows IBM’s purchase of Rational Software last week. IBM is countering Microsoft’s .Net platform with its own combination of Linux and WebSphere (based on J2EE) for the coming world of web services.

This time, I.B.M. and Microsoft are the leading rivals in the unfolding era of networked computing. Within networked computing, one crucial market is the software that runs the larger data-serving computers that power corporate networks and the Internet.

A second vital market is for the layer of software known as a technology platform on which programmers write applications for networked computing. Such applications may include, for example, the programs that allow a regional grocery chain to monitor its stores’ inventories and automatically place orders with suppliers, or enable a corporate personnel department to keep employee benefits records current among its branch offices.

In a tactic that could also help circumvent Microsoft’s greatest strength, I.B.M. is seeking to move the platform layer of software to a level above the operating system, known as middleware. I.B.M.’s middleware offering is called WebSphere, and it is built with a version of the Internet programming language Java, J2EE. Java was created by Sun Microsystems, but I.B.M. researchers contributed a lot of technology to J2EE.

A Java-based platform like WebSphere can run on many different operating systems. Microsoft has its own technology platform for writing networked applications, called .Net, but it is more tailored for the company’s Windows operating systems.

The payoff from networked computing that Microsoft, I.B.M. and many other companies are pursuing is expected to come from Web services clever software that could bring a new level of automation and productivity to all kinds of online transactions among companies, suppliers and consumers. The software would use the Web to find and share data in electronic databases of companies or individuals, then automatically do things like making doctors’ appointments, restaurant reservations or procurement purchases.

JetBlue and Web Services

From WSJ comes an example of practical uses of web services:

JetBlue Airways uses Web services to continuously update its computerized flight manuals for pilots, for instance, and run some aspects of its online store. The company hopes to soon use the technology to link vendors like fuel companies to JetBlue’s own internal systems — making business transactions such as buying jet fuel easier and more efficient. JetBlue officials even have visions of travelers being able to check in for flights through Web-enabled phones and get updates on their cellphones about delayed flights, with the ability to book an alternative itinerary.

“We really, ultimately, would like to be more like an Amazon.com, but in the airline business,” says JetBlue Vice President and Chief Information Officer Jeff Cohen, referring to the online bookstore. “What we anticipate is that through Web services, we’ll be able to give you a better experience.”

Pilots receive all sorts of updates to those manuals, usually delivered in paper form to one of their work mailboxes. At airports, before they get on flights to which they’re assigned, pilots also generally receive other stacks of paper filled with data specific to that flight, such as radar and weather information. The FAA requires airlines to keep records of whether and when pilots receive such information.

JetBlue solved that problem by creating a novel Web service called “BlueBooks.” Using a Microsoft Web-services tool called VisualStudio.NET, computer programmers at the airline crunched code and came up with a new program that would automatically beam the manual updates and technical notices to pilots, wherever they were in the U.S. The program “knows, based on a Web service, what [information] you’re supposed to have on your computer,” and automatically supplies the information pilots don’t have, Mr. Cohen explains.

The procedure works like this: Before every flight, JetBlue pilots head to an airline lounge and log on to the Internet with their laptop computers. (They can either connect wirelessly, or use a high-speed connection.) Once they’re in, the pilots see a prompt to go to a local JetBlue “server” computer, which will serve up the updates they need from a main computer server at headquarters. Pilots acknowledge that they’ve received the updates, which are then automatically integrated into the electronic manuals the pilots have stored on their computers in compact, electronic Adobe Acrobat files. The computer also deletes the old, outdated procedures.

TECH TALK: Disruptive Bridges: Tech 7-11: Technology

Each of the Tech 7-11s has a thick server and any number of thin clients. The thick server is a new desktop, costing no more than USD 1,000-1,500 (Rs 50,000-75,000) and capable of supporting upto 40 thin clients. A thin client can be any old or used computer without a hard disk, CDROM or floppy drive. It has a boot-ROM on its network card to get it started, and then uses the processor on the server for all its computation. The thin client provides the user interaction points the keyboard, mouse and monitor. By simplifying the thin client, we can bring down the cost of these diskless terminals to less than USD 150 (Rs 7,500) in bulk, prices could go even as low as USD 100 (Rs 5,000). There is an almost infinite supply of these machines available as the developed nations upgrade their desktops.

In this server-centric computing architecture, all processing and storage happens on the server. The client is a dumb terminal, but wait! Linux and other open-source software can transform the client into a full-featured Windows-like desktop. It can provide a graphical user interface and all the base set of applications that most users need: an email client, a personal information management application, an office suite with a word processor, spreadsheet and presentation application which can read and write MS-Office file formats, a web browser, an integrated instant messenger which can connect up with all of todays IM systems, and a PDF reader and writer. All this in a virus-free environment at a fraction of the cost of what a new desktop with Windows would cost.

The Tech 7-11 would also provide Internet connectivity. This connectivity could be via leased line, dial-up, VSAT or even WiFi using directional antennae to increase the range dramatically. Printers can be connected to the thick server or the thin client as the case may be. Some of the thin clients can also have support for multimedia.

In addition, the Tech 7-11 would have a wireless access point, using the 802.11 protocols. Such an access point is available for between USD 100-150. What this will do is offer connectivity in the neighbourhood to anyone who has a WiFi-enabled computer. WiFi cards are available for USD 50-100, and falling in prices. As their range increases, the WiFi network with the Tech 7-11 as the hub could extend beyond a few hundred metres. This means that in a village, the thin clients could now be at local schools or homes or government offices, and use the Tech 7-11 as the thick server via the wireless access point.

The two key differences from a cybercafe environment are: the presence of the thick server, which can now become a content and applications server (replicated to and from Internet servers), and WiFi, which can now extend the computing endpoints to beyond what is there in the physical space of the Tech 7-11. As we shall see, both these innovations have the potential to increase by 10x the earnings of the Tech 7-11 and make it a viable and profitable franchise.

Tomorrow: Tech 7-11: Business Model

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