Emergic Freedom Dilemmas

In the coming weeks, I need to decide the approach we are going to take. My target is that by Decmeber-end we should decide what path(s) we will follow. We are too small to run after every possible opportunity at this stage. A few general thoughts which I want to keep in mind:

  • We must look at whole solutions for vertical markets. We have something missing in every segment we look at. In corporates, we cannot run DOS and Windows applications. The government market is attractive, but Microsoft is very well entrenched there. We cannot provide support in remote areas (there is a fear of Linux, and there are few Linux technical staff available). We do not have the widespread applications base for different verticals for example, in the education segment, we cannot run existing CD-ROMs. We do not have a billing and management solution for cybercafes. Schools and training institutions have limited interest in teaching anything that is non-Windows because the market demand is not there. In rural areas and government, we need support for local languages. Also, it is not clear where the used PCs are going to come from there is no organised market for them. In addition, we do not have a standalone single PC solution our cost advantages kick-in only when there are multiple computers. So, we get stuck we are 70-80% there in terms of the generic functionality, but customers need much more than that. To put it simply, we are unable to cross the last mile.
  • We need something distinctive in what we are offering. We have not yet succeeded in making Emergic Freedom desirable. Cost will come after people want our solution. Today, that inner want is missing. That is one of the reasons the demos die quickly. There is no killer app which makes people want to use it after we leave having set up the demo.
  • We have to build out a platform, on which new additions can come over time. I can think of two platforms which Id like to see us learn from Microsofts Windows and Google. In both cases, a solid base works to provide leverage in search for new opportunities. Microsoft owns the command line to the desktop and Google for the web.
  • We have to create awareness of the availability of an alternative. So far, the belief has been that there is no alternative to the new Intel PC and Microsoft software combination. This is where we have to make people at various levels aware that Emergic Freedom and the thin client-thick server offers a very effective and viable alternate computing platform. My talks and weblog have helped, but that is just the tip. A bigger effort needs to be undertaken in this regard.
  • We have to look at building an ecosystem and create a tipping point. The full solution needs many entities to come together. This is not a game for one company alone. For example, how do we provide support and training in remote areas? The role we can play is that of a hub. As a friend put it, we have the opportunity to be the Walmart for low-cost computing. But to do this we need to bridge the low-cost hardware and software through distribution points to end-users.
  • There is an interesting digital divide I see in targeting the bottom of the pyramid: between software developers like ourselves, the people with the money who make deployment decisions but understand little about technology, and finally the ones who know the actual needs of the end-users. As a result, money is getting spent, but the solutions are not solving the needs of the end-users.

    Tomorrow, I will outline some of the ideas that have come up in thinking and discussions over the past few weeks.

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  • Future of Computer Interfaces

    From a Gartner report: “Human-computer interfaces will rapidly improve during the next decade. The wide availability of cheaper display technologies will be one of the most transformational events in the IT industry.”

    Some predictions:

    – Computer screens will become ubiquitous in the everyday environment
    – Input interfaces will enable computers to sense their environment and the identity of their users, and personalize interactions appropriately
    – Advanced interface metaphors will improve the information supply

    The last one is especially interesting (in view of the work we are doing on the Digital Dashboard). Elaborates Gartner: “As enterprises improve their understanding of the different information needs of their users and customers at various touchpoints, a shift will occur–from the current “push” mode to a “pull” mode. Users will be able to select what they need from fewer and fewer options. This improvement will occur because the computer will increasingly become better in pre-selecting options based on its “knowledge” of what users actually need in specific situations.”

    An additional comment by Roland Piquepaille, who blogs on tech trends. Also see Slashdot thread.

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    Find.com Googles Email

    Writes Rafe Needleman (Business 2.0):

    Find.com, a new company that makes a utility that does just what I and, I suspect, millions of other people are looking for. Find.com keeps a running index of your e-mail and returns your search results as you type in each letter of the search query — you see the results list get shorter and shorter in real time. The product searches your text files the same way.

    Find.com also accelerates Web search results. It uses your favorite search engine (such as Google), and once it fires off a query, it loads the results into its preview window so you can quickly page through them. Very slick.

    I think we should do something similar in our Emergic Freedom. Searching for and within emails is still a pain. With all the mails being stored on the thick server, it is much easier for us to do.

    Sims goes Online

    Sims Online goes live this week. Writes News.com:

    “The Sims Online” will expand potential social interactions to thousands of other characters, all controlled by real people. Add a complex, free-market economic system, tools for creating in-game items and multiple chat vehicles, and you’ve got a game that emphasizes creativity and socializing over the swords-and-sorcery dynamics of the fantasy role-playing games that currently dominate online gaming.

    Also see a Forbes story, and a more detailed one from Gamespot. An excerpt:

    Players would be rewarded for creating as opposed to destroying. In most massively multiplayer games, you gain notoriety by killing. But in The Sims Online, Wright wanted to leverage the creativity of players. “People should be successful because they are making the game interesting to each other,” explains Wright. So if a player created an interesting house that attracted hundreds of visitors a day, they would earn money for this popularity, which in turn would allow them to be even more creative.

    In addition, Wright was intrigued by the social angle of online games: He wanted to encourage players to interact with each other. This led to the concept of players being able to co-own a home with up to seven roommates. “In many ways, I wanted to make parts of the game boring so you’d be encouraged to talk with others,” says Wright.

    It would be interesting to do something like Sims for SMEs. Simulate a parallel marketplace where one can try out marketing new products.

    CityBlogs

    John Hiler writes about the reasons for his launching CityBlogs.com. It is an interestign premise. Often, we find out about interesting things only after they’ve happened. Perhaps, cityblogs can become the friend who can recommend good and useful events before they happen!

    Joh Hiler differentiates the blogs over local listings:
    – Personality versus Dry Descriptions
    – Useful Recommendations versus Overwhelming Comprehensiveness
    – Readable by Anyone versus Accessible Only to Experts
    – Niche Coverage versus Mainstream Coverage
    – Local Stringers versus No Followups

    Hiler’s New York Cityblog covers Cinema, Book Readings and Talks.

    TECH TALK: Disruptive Bridges: My First Computer (Part 2)

    In talking about My First Computer, we are also (yet) thinking of connecting the employees to existing applications or databases. Our competition is paper and manual processes. What we are offering is a system which can automate some of the basic, repetitive tasks that people do and more.

    A telephone operator, for example, can use it as a phone and address book. Instead of storing details of missed calls on scraps of paper, the operator can now send an email or an instant message to the concerned person. Is one call that may have otherwise been missed worth Rs 500? A librarian can use it to record books and magazines that have been borrowed, enabling employees to electronically browse what the library offers. Is their time saved worth Rs 500 each month?

    One could think of many such scenarios depending on the people involved. Giving a computer with a basic set of applications (email, calendar, tasks manager, contact manager, browser, word processor, spreadsheet, presentation application, instant messenger) and more importantly, instructions and guidance to use these applications in day-to-day activities can definitely play a role in making their users more productive.

    In addition, I feel that the empowerment and confidence that todays non-users will get with My First Computer will result in a more pro-active workforce. The computer can have that magical effect on people. All we have to do is to look back to the exhilaration we felt when we used our first PC. That feeling needs to be permeated across every employee in the enterprise.

    The interface that is seen on My First Computer cannot be the one we currently see. Files-Folders-Icons along with the Start-Menu may be fine for todays power users. Is there something simpler we can offer to the novice users? It should be something which does not make feel that theyve been given a cheaper, poorer version of todays MS-Windows interface. In fact, they should feel delighted with what they have, not disappointed. There is a wonderful opportunity to rethink the first screen that users see and use for this next set of users. What we do them to feel is that they have a superior version of a new product, rather than an inferior version of an old one.

    What is needed is the equivalent of a Digital Dashboard on the PC, which becomes the gateway for performing tasks, the aggregator of information, and the launchpad for applications. It is the one screen which users can think of as their electronic home.

    My First Computer along with a set of ideas that simplify computing for todays non-consumers in enterprises can create the first step in opening up a whole new world of opportunities for the workforce. It is the key component in creating a new technology ecosystem in the worlds developing countries. It is the first step in creating nations whose populace is computer-literate. The biggest challenge and question which we have to answer is how can we make this possible (profitably for the entire value chain) at the price point we had talked of: Rs 500 per person per month.

    Tomorrow: Economics

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