Who wants Microsoft’s Windows source code?

The lead story in today’s Economic Times has a story on Microsoft’s apparent willingness to share its Windows source with one government body. “The nature of the body has not been spelt out; it will presumably be worked out after discussions between the company and the government officials. Interestingly, the offer comes at a time when state governments are showing interest in rival Linux operating system as the latter’s source code is free and downloadable from the internet.”, writes the paper.

It is hard to see what difference this will make. The fundamental issue in the Microsoft-Linux battle is that of cost, not about sharing of source code. Emerging markets like India cannot afford the dollar-based software pricing of Windows and other applications. They need cheaper alternatives, and that is where Linux and its suite of applications in the form of Evolution, Mozilla and OpenOffice (among others) comes in. The issue at heart is not being pouring over source code, but looking to see how the cost of computing (hardware and software) can be brought down by a factor of 10 to make it affordable for the mass-market at the bottom of the pyramid.

If Microsoft is really serious, it should cut prices of Windows and Office by 80-90% for emerging markets like India. That is something which should make headlines, not stories like this which simply confuse and sidetrack the core issue of cost and affordability. If the choice if between cost and source code, the Indian government should pick cost.

Create a viable alternative to Microsoft’s platforms and see how Microsoft will be forced to drop prices in order to compete. This is the opportunity that India has – it can set up a precedent for the other emerging markets by announcing official support for Linux and open-source, and making it the primary selection for all computers purchased by the government. This will have knock-on effect down the line and create the cost-effective computing solutions that India so desperately needs. Remember: Infotech (especially software) is the oil of the 21st century.

NetLedger’s ERP meets Salesforce.com’s CRM

Line56 writes about the face-off between NetLedger and Salesforce.com, as both now tread on each others markets.

NetLedger will announce a migration program, called the Legacy SFA Switch Program, which includes products, a migration wizard and license credits that help companies move from salesforce.com.

On the other hand, salesforce.com is pushing into the back-office. It plans to launch Billing Edition in the first quarter of 2003. The new billing system will include invoicing, contract management and order management, and will be a part of salesforce.com’s overall service.

The interesting question: what comes first – ERP or CRM?

The question though, is what should come first — CRM or ERP? NetLedger’s Nelson says: “All data goes to the accounting system. It’s the system of record and the key CRM data repository. It’s taken us years to knock out accounting… and simply to bolt some ERP functionality onto CRM isn’t going to work.”

Katherine Jones, managing director of enterprise business applications at Aberdeen Group, agrees that CRM might not be the best starting point for developing a pre-integrated, front-office and back-office solution. “The world doesn’t revolve around CRM,” she says, adding, “To be trite, you don’t want the tail wagging the dog.”

But Marc Benioff of salesforce.com points to a landscape littered with failed CRM implementations as testament to the difficulty in building and selling cutting-edge CRM solutions. Moreover, he says many companies already have an ERP system and won’t dump it just to go with a single, integrated offering. ” Reality is everybody makes CRM decisions independently from their financial decisions,” Benioff says.

On the revenues front, NetLedger’s revenues are USD 10 million while Salesforce.com is at USD 60 million. CRM ahead of ERP?

San Jose Mercury News has an in-depth look at Marc Benioff and his radical business model:

In the new era, software programs will be sold in mass quantities for low prices like any other commodity. “My personal goal is to demonstrate this is the next wave,” Benioff said.

The way he sees it, the software industry has long abused its customers, forcing them to hire expensive consultants to customize the code and install the programs on in-house computer systems in order to gain an edge over their competitors.

Benioff, and a growing number of sympathizers, say it makes more sense for customers to rent the programs and let software pros handle the technical side. Users tap into Salesforce.com over the Internet, the same way they order books from Amazon. There is no installation, no customization and updates happen effortlessly. Competitive advantage comes from getting the benefits from the application far quicker and for much less money.

Such a radical change in the way the industry works could send some of Silicon Valley’s biggest software names into a tailspin. Just as mini computers displaced mainframes, and PCs dislodged workstations, software-as-a-service could turn industry heavyweights into has-beens.

Indeed, Benioff predicts that powerhouses like PeopleSoft, SAP and Siebel Systems will eventually be swallowed by other companies. It’s the natural order of technology, he says. The new generation grows up to consume its parents and sometimes entire industries.

WiFi Boom

The NYTimes has a series of articles on the growing availability of WiFi: “Subscription services and pay-as-you-go Wi-Fi hot spots are springing up in cafes, bookstores, hotels and airports, put in by companies like T-Mobile and smaller, start-up competitors like Boingo Wireless and Wayport. Last week, Cometa Networks, a new company backed by Intel, AT&T and I.B.M., said it planned to put a network of thousands of wireless access points across a huge swath of the nation by 2004. The result is a growing array of options for Wi-Fi users and the emergence of a mobile wireless culture that spans business travelers, teachers and students, people relaxing in coffee shops and even moviegoers waiting for the show.”

Some stats: “According to Gartner, the number of Wi-Fi cards sold in North America this year is on track to jump 75 percent over 2001, with another 57 percent gain over this year expected in 2003. William Clark, research director at Gartner, said that the number of frequent Wi-Fi users was expected to grow to 1.9 million next year from 700,000 in 2002, with the number of public hot spots in North America likely to nearly triple by the end of next year from about 3,300 now.”

An article earlier in the week in NYT said that the profit potential from WiFi was “tepid”.

While analysts hesitate to predict that any of these companies will survive to become widely recognized brands like Netscape, the resemblance to the Internet craze of the 1990’s has been widely noted. “There is a bit of a bubble here,” said Dylan Brooks, a wireless communications analyst at Jupiter Research. “We’ve had more than $2 billion in venture capital money flowing in, more than total revenues.”

Most of those ventures are destined to flop, analysts say. Even established technology companies like Cisco Systems, the leading seller of Wi-Fi gear; Symbol Technologies; and the Hewlett-Packard Company face an uphill battle to earn profits with Wi-Fi because competition is driving prices down so rapidly.

A Seattle Time article wrote: “Technology historians could look back at 2002 as the year a geeky wireless technology outgrew its grass roots and created a burst of excitement in the beaten-down telecommunications business. So much so that the technology, called Wi-Fi, had drawn the committed interest of industry giants by the end of the year…The story of Wi-Fi’s development in 2002 is one of setback and progress, struggle and victory. In addition to some confrontations between geeks and corporations, the year saw new product and security breakthroughs designed to build a stable platform for future growth.”

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Going After SMEs

The last few days have seen a flurry of announcements on the small business services front:

  • Yahoo announced “a new three-tier Web hosting service aimed at small businesses with 100 employees or less.” From Line 56:

    Rich Riley, vice president and general manager of Yahoo Small Business says the hosting market on this scale in the U.S. is greater than $1 billion, and addresses as many as 20 million businesses, most of which have no online strategy. “The key driver will be businesses coming online for the first time or upgrading their online presence to be a mission-critical part of their business,” Riley says. “We want to be the leader of the market which is highly fragmented with no clear leader.”

    Yahoo employed a Harris Interactive poll to discern five key customer criteria for a small business portal: reliability; cost; customer service; trust; and brand. “We already operate the world’s most heavily-trafficked website,” Riley says, “and we’ve been in the hosting business for five years.” Yahoo says 24-hour mail and telephone support is part of the service level agreement for mid and top-tier customers.

    Yahoo’s three service tiers are:

    Business Starter, which offers 10 personal address email accounts 50 megabytes of storage and 20 gigabytes of data transfer for $11.95 per month;

    Business Standard, which provides 25 business edition email accounts, 100 meg storage and 25 gig data transfer for $19.95 per month and;

    Business Professional, with 35 email accounts, 350 meg storage and 35 gig data transfer for $39.95 per month.

    Adds News.com: “Called Yahoo Web Hosting, the product brings together tools and services to allow small businesses have a Web presence. All subscribers will get 24-7 customer service, domain name registration, a business version of Yahoo Mail, access to Yahoo’s e-commerce storefronts and the ability to be promoted on Yahoo. Subscribers also get Web site publishing tools, design templates for different types of businesses, PHP scripting and MySQL database services.”

  • Dell announced “new services to make it easier for small businesses to purchase and get computer networks up and running.” The three sets of services, according to ServerWatch, are:

    Network Design — assesses the customer’s hardware and software needs, as well as technician time required to build a network. With a starting price of $199 this package includes an on-site assessment from a technical expert who will review what’s in place and determine what is required to design a well-rounded network or to deploy a specific hardware configuration

    Installation — available for Dell’s entire product line, including OptiPlex and Dimension desktops, Latitude and Inspiron notebooks, Dell Precision workstations, PowerConnect switches, PowerEdge servers, PowerVault storage, and a variety of software and peripherals. For desktop, notebook and workstations, Dell said it will transfer data from the old systems to the new, as well as install the customer’s software on each system

    Dell’s Business Professional Training — targeted at customers with zero IT staff, this package includes online courses for more than 340 applications. With this $99-per-year package, enterprises with a technical staff can tap Dell for industry certification programs or schedule time with technical experts to provide more training

    Adds San Jose Mercury News on the Dell announcement:

    An estimated 70 percent of small businesses don’t have IT departments, according to a report by AMI Partners Inc.

    Businesses like mom-and-pop stores, beauty parlors and other small operations have been craving this kind of package, said Michele Hudnall, a Meta Group analyst who tracks technology service and support.

    “They don’t have the funding to bring in the folks who would have the expertise, so the more out-of-the-box, plug-and-play that Dell can make that, the better,” she said. “It has to be very canned.”

    Hudnall said the tricky part for Dell could be figuring out how to offer proper support to customers once the products are designed and sold because Dell doesn’t have a physical presence at the business.

  • Interland acquired Trellix. From the press release:

    “We believe that the addition of Trellix provides our company with, hands-down, the industry’s best technology foundation necessary to attack this huge mass-market opportunity,” said Joel J. Kocher, Interland chief executive officer.

    “Through our mass-market strategy we are creating an opportunity to reach a much broader audience of small businesses — and one that no one else is reaching effectively. Interland will be able to offer a unique blend of service and technology by combining its market leadership and revolutionary blueHALO hosting platform with Trellix’s technology and significant distribution relationships,” said Kocher.

    The current Web hosting market can be characterized as early adopter, generally more technically savvy than the average small-business owner, according to Yankee Group research analyst Helen Chan. “There is a very large market opportunity as most small businesses and home offices do not have a Web site,” said Chan. “By acquiring Trellix, Interland is poised to be a leader in both the early adopter market and the small-business mass market. This move will help broaden Interland from a Web hosting service company to a Web solutions provider for SMEs.”

    “This merger is a wonderful combination,” said Trellix founder and chief technology officer Dan Bricklin. “Small businesses must have access to all of the online aspects of doing business today to find and serve their customers. Unlike big businesses, they have no data centers and no dedicated IT staff. They need someone else to do all this on their behalf. Together, we can provide software tailored to small-business needs, tightly integrated with facilities manned 24×7.”

  • What is Nick Denton up to?

    I have bene anxiously waiting to see what Nick Denton will do next. I had liked his Moreover idea of news aggregation – it was something I had wanted to take Samachar to, but did not. So, when he had announced a few months ago that he was looking to do a new venture with blogs, I’ve been curious to see what he would do next. This was even as we had our own ideas with BlogStreet.

    Now, Nick Denton describes what he is doing next:

    Putting together a series of weblog media businesses. The more ambitious is a news filtering system, about which more below. That project launches later in 2003. In the meantime, we’re launching a series of niche media sites, powered by weblog publishing software.

    The first are Gizmodo and Gawker, two sites covering categories too small to warrant dedicated print publications, but with an appeal to advertisers sufficient to support a bare-bones editorial operation. This is what Jeff Jarvis calls nanopublishing.

    Gawker is an online magazine for Manhattan launching in January 2003. It’s target audience is the city’s media and financial elite. Think of it as the New York Observer, crossed with Jim Romenesko’s MediaNews. The publication will be supported by advertising, primarily from real estate brokers and luxury goods retailers. It adopts the weblog format, and relies on links to external content.

    Gizmodo is a weblog for the gadget addict, with at least half a dozen new items each day on the skinniest laptops, tiniest cameras, as well as electronic toys too absurd to buy. Gizmodo launched in August 2002, and is already one of the leading destinations for hardcore gadget fanciers. Gizmodo earns commission on its readers’ purchases from Amazon.com, and will be introducing display advertising.

    Blogwire — a working title — will mine the editorial selections and commentary on weblogs to produce an improved personalized news service to consumers. It will identify the stories which have generated the most buzz in the weblog community, and allow readers to track the writings of their favorite weblog authors.

    All interesting ideas, but the one which interests me most is Blogwire. It is what we’ve also been looking at as to where we want to take BlogStreet down the line. The blog world has gotten very interesting in 2002 as various bloggers speak their heart and mind out on what’s happening. This “microcontent” is increasingly what drives my thinking and imagination. But it lacks organisation. It would be nice to create a self-organising emergent and personalised blogReader, which collates items of value as being discussed in my blog neighbourhood and beyond.

    Google’s Command Line Control

    David Galbraith writes on the opportunity for Google on the desktop:

    One of the key components of Longhorn is a long awaited overhaul of the Windows file system that will allow proper full-text searching. File systems built on top of databases are not new, IBMs AS400s have had this for years, so it could be argued that an update to Windows is not technological progress but fixing inelegant software architecture. The Internet has made the use of full-text search familiar and necessary and the lack of this ‘must have’ feature in Windows is now embarrassing.

    If this is not going to be available till 2004 then perhaps there is an opportunity for Google. Imagine a Google toolbar that provided indexing of files on your computer, rather like that provided by Enfish. Google would search your own computer and the Internet seamlessly. Now imagine that optional extras included searchable, secure backups of your email or documents accessible online. Microsoft’s dominance, that has spread from control of the command line to control of the desktop, would be challenged as a design flaw at the core of its operating system was exploited.

    He adds: “Microsoft owned command line access to your own machine and built on top of that. Google owns the command line for access to other machines.”

    He builds upon this argument: “The [Google] search box extends beyond the web to allow searching files that are located on any machine, from any machine and the search becomes not only aware of the content that is being searched, but triggers different results based upon the context…A universal command line to access anything from anywhere.”

    On a separate note, Google is seeking to take this domination further with the launch of the beta of its shopping search engine, Froogle.

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    Mobile Gaming

    The Economist has an article that discusses the state of the video games industry. The two new things to look forward to are online gaming and mobile gaming. In both areas, the current leader, Sony, is likely to face challenges: “Just as Microsoft’s understanding of computer networking could give it the edge over Sony in online-console gaming, Nokia’s wireless expertise could prove a crucial advantage as mobile gaming evolves. If online and mobile gaming do take off, Microsoft and Nokia are well placed to ride the industry’s next wave.”

    Adds the Economist on mobile gaming:

    Gaming on mobile phones is also taking small but crucial steps forward. Today’s phones mostly have one or two simple games built in. The latest handsets have colour screens and can download software remotely. Their processing power matches that of the arcade-game machines of the 1980s, so classic games such as – Pacman – run well. Games take roughly a minute to download, but adding one to a handset is almost as easy as downloading a new ringing tone or screen logo.

    Informa predicts that mobile-gaming revenues will reach $3.5 billion by 2006; other estimates are higher. What is striking, says Ben Wood, an analyst at Gartner, is that people seem reluctant to pay for other content on their mobile phones but are happy to pay for games. In Europe, downloading a game costs between euro2.50 ($2.50) and euro8. Mobile operators hope that, in future, multi-player games in which players compete over the airwaves will generate extra revenue.

    Mobile gaming is a very different market from console gaming. Prices of individual games are much lower, but the popularity of mobile phones means volumes are potentially much higher. Indeed, mobile phones could ultimately become the world’s most widespread gaming devices. Next year Nokia, the world’s largest handset maker, will launch a handset specifically aimed at gamers. Called the N-Gage, it is a direct challenge to Nintendo’s handheld console, the Game Boy Advance.

    Joel on Software

    Another insightful essay by Joel Spolsky, which ends with the following advice: “Don’t start a new project without at least one architect with several years of solid experience in the language, classes, APIs, and platforms you’re building on. If you have a choice of platforms, use the one your team has the most skills with, even if it’s not the trendiest or nominally the most productive. And when you’re designing abstractions or programming tools, go the extra mile to make them leak proof.”

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    Bioinformatics

    Writes the Economist:

    In life-sciences establishments around the world, the laboratory rat is giving way to the computer mouse – as computing joins forces with biology to create a market that is expected to be worth nearly $40 billion within three years.

    Welcome to the world of bioinformaticsa branch of computing concerned with the acquisition, storage and analysis of biological data. Once an obscure part of computer science, bioinformatics has become a linchpin of biotechnology’s progress. In the struggle for speed and agility, bioinformatics offers unparalleled efficiency through mathematical modelling. In the quest for new drugs, it promises new ways to look at biology through data mining. And it is the only practical way of making sense of the ensuing deluge of data.

    The big opportunity is in data mining, according to the article.

    First pplied in banking, data mining uses a variety of algorithms to sift through storehouses of data in search of noisy patterns and relationships among the different silos of information. The promise for bioinformatics is that public genome data, mixed with proprietary sequence data, clinical data from previous drug efforts and other stores of information, could unearth clues about possible candidates for future drugs.

    Unlike banking, bioinformatics offers big challenges for data mining because of the greater complexity of the information and processes. This is where modelling and visualisation techniques should come in, to simulate the operations of various biological functions and to predict the effect of stimuli on a cell or organ. Computer modelling allows researchers to test hunches fast, and offers a starting-point for further research using other methods such as X-ray crystallography or spectroscopy. It also means that negative responses come sooner, reducing the time wasted on unworkable target drugs.

    TECH TALK: Disruptive Bridges: Tech 7-11: Hub-and-Spoke Extension

    The second innovation in the Tech 7-11 is the wireless access point. This extends the network beyond the physical space that the Tech 7-11 occupies. This has a dual benefit: it can now offer connectivity to anyone with a WiFi connection in the neighbourhood, and going beyond, offer the same set of services of processing and storage to the computers in the vicinity, thus ensuring that a thin client costing no more than Rs 7,500 (USD 150) can be used as this remote computer.

    Let us discuss both these benefits further. In the first case, as more and more devices are WiFi-enabled and the WiFi range increases due to the trajectory of innovation, users can leverage the wireless access point for Internet connectivity without actually being in the Tech 7-11. This is similar to the strategy being used by Starbucks in the US. It has set up wireless access points in its more than 1,00 of its outlets in the US in association with T-mobile, charges USD 30 per month for unlimited Internet access. One could of course be in the Starbucks or just outside. Starbucks is using its existing real estate and network to offer a service which goes beyond just its varieties of coffee!

    In the second case, the thin client with a WiFi card can extend the network and reach of the Tech 7-11. Current WiFi speeds are upto 11 Mbps for 802.11b and upto 54 Mbps for 802.11a and 802.11g. The key limitation at present is the range limited to 100 metres or less. This may not be good enough at present, but as happens so often with disruptive technologies, there is enough work happening to increase this range. Recently, at least two WiFi companies have announced that using special antennae they can extend the range to 10 kilometres.

    What this will do in the future is to extend the neighbourhood that can be served. Think of this as a hub-and-spoke network, with the server as the hub and the thin clients as the spokes. The WiFi-enabled thin client spokes are connected to the thick server which does the processing and storage. The result: for an investment of Rs 7,500 or less, anyone can get a connected computer. From the Tehc 7-11 point of view, if it can service 100 such computers in a neighbourhood and charge Rs 1,000 for both the computing and connectivity per month, it generates an additional revenue of Rs 100,000 per month using the same infrastructure that it already has. This same user base could also be targeted for additional value-added services.

    There is another interesting by-product of the server-centric computing architecture. The client desktops can be controlled from the server, which means that an advertising revenue stream can also be opened up. In short, a spectrum of value-added services can help increase the earning potential of the Tech 7-11.

    The Tech 7-11 in the form of a community computer and communications centre is the first mechanism in making computing available to the masses. In this scenario, the computer is a shared device. What if we wanted to have the computer in the enterprise? After all, the enterprise is where a large number of people spend their work day. A slight variation on the same basic idea of the Tech 7-11 can make this happen. Think of this concept as My First Computer.

    Next Week: My First Computer

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