Longhorn – Long Way Off?

A WSJ story talks about Microsoft’s bets on Longhorn and connects it to Cairo, the OS project which failed primarily because of the refusal of various parties to change user programs and file formats. Longhorn aims to do just that, providing among other things, a seamless way to search for information.

Cairo was once touted by Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates as a radical “paradigm shift” in computing, mainly for its lofty goal of overhauling and unifying Windows’ file systems. For everyday computer users, the benefits could include being able to seamlessly search through e-mail messages, Microsoft Word files or even Internet pages in the same way, instead of using one of the many separate file systems that exist today.

That goal, described by many people close to Microsoft as a sort of “holy grail” for Mr. Gates, didn’t work. Now, Cairo looks more like an embarrassing footnote in Microsoft’s product history.

One thorny problem for Mr. Allchin and his engineers is that building a brand-new file system — and replacing the different systems for storing things like Word documents and e-mail messages — could require the expensive and time-consuming rewriting of many of the software programs that run on top of Windows, including those made by outside companies. Those critical programs run the gamut from antivirus software to Adobe Systems Inc.’s popular Acrobat reader to Microsoft’s own Office suite of programs.

“If they change the file system, they are going to break programs,” says Michael Cherry, a former Microsoft program manager who is now an analyst for the firm Directions on Microsoft in Kirkland, Wash. Resistance from the Office group helped sink previous Microsoft efforts to unify file systems, and Microsoft should expect “a lot of resistance from Office” again, says former Microsoft executive Usama Fayyad, now president and chief executive of data-mining company digiMine Inc. He thinks a new file system is “a nice vision, [but] it’s not a reality, and it won’t be a reality in the short term.”

To make matters more complicated, Longhorn will include a new set of “application-program interfaces,” or APIs, that provide a recipe to make software that works with the new operating system. Those APIs are expected to improve things such as 3-D graphics in Windows, but they could also require changes in some existing programs for them to work properly.

Longhorn is scheduled for release in 2004 or 2005.

This is where I see an interesting opportunity for Linux and server-centric computing. Some of the innovations, especially with the file system, can be applied to the new set of users, who have little legacy. Already, all my files, emails, bookmarks, sites I am browsing, etc. are all there on the server. What is needed is a way to tie them all together. This is of course just one aspect of what an OS does. But by taking some ideas from the past (and the future), serve-centric computing with Linux can actually provide a better computing environment.

It is the same logic which we are trying to apply to the front-end with the Digital Dashboard project, by providing an integrated view of all the events and information flows that a user needs to see.

What is key here is the target audience: they are the new markets, new users. We have an opportunity to rethink the computing platform for the next 500 million users and apply these innovations without worry about the past for these users.

It is, in some ways, the same thinking Reliance Infocomm is applying to the telecom market in India – by providing a very rich set of features and services in the coming IndiaMobile service with CDMA 1x (which is for all pratical purposes a variant of 3G) to users who have never really experienced mobile telephony or the Internet, and all this at an affordable price point.

Use technology to help new users leapfrog – that should be how we need to think.

Objectives for 2003

2002 was a good year as we began work towards the Emergic vision. What were a set of ideas a year or so ago are now becoming realilty. We have a thin client-thick computing solution in Emergic Freedom, have recently deployed the Digital Dashboard internally which integrates personal and business events, and have an integrated suite of (small) enterprise applications (again for internal use) which combine information from accouting, marketing and customer support. We also launched BlogStreet, which is carving out its own niche in the blogspace. Our Linux Messaging side of the business has seen our client base rise and we’ve also had some success outside India.

2003 has to the year we now have to focus on Execution and put in place “a discipline of getting things done”. In effect, we have 2 parts to our business: the first is a Linux and Messaging solutions business, which has to power the second part, Emergic. The first is an existing business, while we seek to build the second stream out this year. This approach ensures that we have existing cash flows which can help fund the second business until a point of time it is ready for take-off.

When I look back, we had a similar approach in IndiaWorld. There was a steady website development business which helped bring the cash in every month, and then a second higher-profile portal business which for the first few years needed investments till the Internet advertising market took off. The portal was the growth amplifier. Similarly today, in times to come, Emergic and its suite of products and services will be the engine to provide multiplier returns, provided we execute well.

So, our three key objectives for this year are:

  • Increase domestic (within India) penetration of our products and services by increasing presence and distribution channels, thus also growing revenues.

  • Reach out internationally for selling our products and software development services in Linux/messaging areas, and sourcing software products for our platform.

  • Realise the vision of Emergic: A connected computer accessible to every employee and family, by enabling computers for Rs 5,000 (USD 100) and software for Rs 250 (USD 5) per month.

    The domestic business gives us access to the local market (within India) and steady monthly cash flows. The international expansion helps build on the strengths of the products and solutions we have created and also helps put in place a channel for Emergic, which is the engine for tomorrow’s growth. The challenge for us is to make sure we do all the three objectives well.

    2002 was the year of Envisioning and Experimentation. 2003 now has to the year of Execution.

  • TECH TALK: 2003 Expectations: The Search

    As 2003 dawns, what kind of a year in technology do we expect? In a single sentence, it will probably be more like 2002 spent waiting for the recovery which always seems two quarters away. So, at a superficial level, we continue to live on hope. What I think we perhaps still do not realise is many of the changes which have taken place in technology spends are deeper and more impactful. More on that in a moment. Also, at a deeper level, there are some very innovative technologies to look forward to. These are creating their own sets of opportunities.

    Information technology has powered much of the change in our workplace and at home that we see in the past two decades. The PC revolution came in four waves: the personal computer revolution of the 80s, then the networks that connected these standalone machines in enterprises in the late 80s, multimedia in the early 90s and the Internet and Web in the second half of the 1990s. In the last decade, the party was joined by enterprise software which helped glue together various parts of the enterprise, the fibre optics improvements which powered ever greater bandwidth, the availability of anywhere voice communications via cellphones, and the free availability of venture capital and public market capital for new ideas.

    The situation now is somewhat different. In much of the developed world, there are no new killer applications driving PC purchases, enterprises are delaying computer upgrades as they are under pressure to cut costs (and besides, the 3-or 4-year-old computer seem to work just fine), and many telecom companies are weighed down by severe debt which they took upto fund their expansion of the late 1990s in anticipation of the traffic boom. Besides, almost everyone who needs a computer or cellphone in places like North America, Western Europe, Japan and Australia already seems to have one.

    The 5 big winners of the technology revolution are sitting on huge stockpiles of cash Microsoft, Intel, Cisco, Dell and Oracle are together have USD 87 billion, which is up USD 10 billion from a year ago (mostly attributable to Microsoft). They are of course not sitting idle. As the Wall Street Journal wrote in a recent story: These tech companies will likely emerge from the long slump in stronger competitive positions, compared with cash-starved and debt-ridden rivals. The titans are wielding their cash as competitive weapons. Microsoft is pouring billions into far-flung searches for new growth markets, such as Internet service, video-game consoles and cellphone software. Intel is investing $12 billion in new and retooled factories, hoping to expand its lead in semiconductor technology. Dell is grabbing market share and expanding into new products.

    Everyone is in search of the next new markets. WiFi, Web Services, Grid Computing, Small and Medium Enterprises, Online Video Gaming, Linux, BioInformatics, Nanotech, Multimedia Messaging on Cellphones, Search, Robots, Outsourced Services, Security, Developing Nations, Digital Photography – what will it be? Everyone has their own vision of the future. Well look at some of these expectations for 2003.

    Tomorrow: Microsoft and Office 11