Future of Silicon Valley

Kumar Venkat in the San Jose Mercury News asks in Silicon Valley can still stay relevant:

Whether it is software development, chip design or technical support, the lure of countries like India, Russia and China is the availability of large numbers of well-educated knowledge workers at extremely low cost. Good engineers can usually be hired in these countries for about $1,000 a month. These wages are just a fraction of what similar engineers would earn in Silicon Valley. The potential for cost savings is enormous, and we may well be in the early stages of a substantial movement of high-tech jobs out of the valley.

High-speed communications technology, much of it developed here, has made it almost seamless to interact with co-workers and customers in any part of the world. Even if a company is still headquartered in the valley for historical reasons, the “virtual” company may be global these days with physical offices in different corners of the world.

An interesting point. I do believe that while much of the new technology innovation will still happen in tech hubs like the Silicon Valley, the centre of gravity of the new technology markets will definitely be in the world’s emerging markets like India, China, Russia and Brazil. Of course, these markets will need low-cost solutions. Can Silicon Valley stay relevant by crafting these solutions?

Thin Servers?

News.com: “Welcome to the dawning of the age of the $200 personal computer.” This made me think – could we put together a number of these machines as a server cluster? A bit like a cheap grid, perhaps. Make one of the servers a storage system, with RAID disks. This could then give small enterprises a reliable and scalable server architecture – just what is needed for server-centric computing. This is probably what is the rationale behind blade servers. I don’t know of the software complexity involved in this.

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John Dvorak on Linux

From ZDNet:

The Linux community copies the inventions of Microsoft out of necessity. This is partly because of the pressure to conform to the dominating standards of look and feel. But also, part of the reason is the Wintel background of the open-source movement. Not everyone in the movement, mind you, just most of the participants. The various user interfaces are compared with Windows. Programs such as GIMP are compared with Windows programs. Though the Linux community does not want to admit this, Linux has become a pale imitation of the evil OS it intends to replace. On some levels, Linux is better, but from most perspectives it is summarized as “not quite as good but a lot cheaper.”

So what needs to happen? First of all, the desktop-window metaphor has had a good run and has its place, but can’t we try something different? Before Windows came out, IBM attempted the TopView paradigm. The odd Canon Cat computer came and went, showing a new idea and a new model for computing. Nothing is wrong with experimenting. During the CD-ROM era, numerous experimental interfaces were on the market. Many games have interesting new interface ideas. Yet we get the same old command line and WIMP (windows, icons, mouse, and pointer) interfaces in Linux.

Agreed. This is where we are working on our Digital Dashboard project, to give an alternate screen to users, especially the new users.

Sun’s Madhatter

A News.com interview with Curtis Sasaki (Sun’s newly appointed vice president of desktop solutions) on Madhatter, Sun’s thin client computing solution, which uses Linux desktops. He said the 3 motivations for the project were: enterprises’ seeking to reduce IT infrastructure costs, their desire for improving security and a move towards open source platforms.

When asked about the importance of Java to this platform, he said: “The value proposition we’re adding is taking all these layers of software and really integrating it well into a full system. We’ve seen in the marketplace other attempts at Linux desktops…basically what they’ve done is take a lot of open-source software, throw it on a CD and expect it to be a complete desktop. What we’ve been trying to do is look at all the things required for a complete desktop, and Java is a big part of filling in those gaps.”

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Students Building Computers

Mississippi Students Build Their Own PC’s (NYT): “The mission: building about 6,000 computers so that every Mississippi classroom will have an online computer by the end of 2002.” This would be good to do in engineering colleges in developing nations. It helps create the technical knowledge in students as well as creates a bottom-up computing infrastructure.

Adds the article: “One of the most exciting results…is not only that computers are being placed in classrooms, but that the students who built them are learning marketable skills. Preparing students for certification as computer technicians is an important goal of the program.”

TECH TALK: The Best of Tech Talk 2002: Key Themes

As another year transitions, I thought Id take this week to look back at some of my writings over the past year. At a global level in technology, 2002 was more like the previous year waiting for a recovery. And yet, there are some very interesting developments taking place. There is a lot of action happening in what Kevin Werbach calls the next WWW WiFi, Weblogs and Web Services. The last three issues of Esther Dysons Release 1.0 have talked about visualization, gaming and grid computing. While some of our optimism may have diminished, the opportunities for tomorrow have not.

My writings in Tech Talk have sought to highlight some of the promise that technology brings forth in making for a better and more exciting future. My viewpoint is as a technologist and entrepreneur in a developing country (India). Some of the beliefs that I bring forth and which reflect in my writings are:

Emerging Markets are where the next technology markets are. Computing has reached 500 million users, largely in North America, Western Europe, Australia and Japan. These markets are saturated, and are largely upgrade markets. The next set of users are going to come from the worlds emerging markets like India, China, Brazil, Mexico, Africa. But they need solutions which are at very different price points, in fact, at a tenth of the costs of todays solutions. This is where the next set of opportunities are.

Technology can and must bridge the digital divide. Technology has unleashed a huge change in our lifetimes in the past many years. But so far, it has only touched the top of the pyramid. What is now needed is for technology to impact the bottom of the pyramid. It needs to build bridges to these users and enterprises. Just as cellphones and STD/PCOs have helped bring voice communications to the previously unconnected, what is now needed is to do the same with computing, software and knowledge.

We have to build the New India (and the New China, the New Brazil, the New Mexico, the New Africa). The new nations have to built bottom-up, in an emergent manner by us. We have made our choices to live in our nations it is up to each of us to make them Great during our generation. And this is where, technology is our ally. We should use the newest ideas and put together solutions think of them as disruptive innovations which can help people and organisations leapfrog. No one but us is going to make the New Nations happen.

As I look back, there were 3 themes underlying much of my writing: emerging technologies, new computing paradigms and bridging the digital divide in India and other emerging markets. Well discuss each of these in the coming days.

Tomorrow: Emerging Technologies