Apple is Back?

Writes Lee Gomes (WSJ):

Apple these days is in the unique and enviable position of appealing simultaneously to computer users at both ends of the usage spectrum. The first is the home user, someone who just wants to surf the Net and read e-mail. Not long ago, home users would have been crazy for considering a Macintosh. Now, they are crazy if they don’t.

The second is the technically minded user, who likes the new Mac because it’s based on software called FreeBSD, a kissing cousin to Linux. Apple says the Linux-on-the-desktop movement is stalling, which would once again make the Apple ecosystem the gathering place for people disinclined to like Mr. Gates.

Apple’s products have a buzz about them. I too am thinking of getting a Powerbook, to try out some of the new software.

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Linux as Mainstream Technology

NYTimes writes:

The evidence is now overwhelming that Linux, once a symbol of software’s counterculture, has become a mainstream technology.

To date, Linux has thrived in some sizable niches of the market for operating systems on server computers, the data-serving machines that act as the hubs of computer networks. Linux is widely used on machines that send Web pages to desktop personal computers and for high-performance computing tasks like scientific research, Hollywood special effects and analyses of risk and trading patterns on Wall Street.

But the real issue is how far Linux can extend its reach into everyday corporate computing in all kinds of industries. By 2005, it should be “a mainstream choice,” along with Microsoft’s Windows and commercial versions of Unix, as a server operating system in most industries, said Dan Kusnetzky, an analyst at IDC.

“All of Unix is more at risk than Microsoft’s Windows in the next few years,” said Thomas Berquist, a Goldman, Sachs analyst and a co-author of the study. “But what is really at risk is the concept of a proprietary operating system. And that has to affect Microsoft.”

Internal Web Store for IT Needs

From InfoWorld comes an interesting idea:

It’s a familiar job description: Make past IT investments pay. Cut spending. Meet user demands. Then do it again. What’s a CIO to do?

James Noble, vice president and CIO at Philip Morris Companies, put it another way: “How can you be innovative and increase productivity when you’re just keeping the lights on?” he asked at a recent Society for Information Management CIO Forum in New York City.

Noble’s answer: Set up a company store for IT services, what he calls a “service center model on steroids.” Noble convinced Philip Morris execs to set up a Web-based company store where business-unit leaders can shop for IT needs. The store, which has its own revenue and profit goals, offers both goods and services, and uses Meta Group benchmarks to compare store prices to the cost of outside vendors. Noble says low overhead keeps the store’s prices competitive.

With the store meeting basic user demands, Noble says he spends more time on tackling innovation for top-line results.

Interactive TV

Forbes writes about the battle between Sony and Microsoft:

Microsoft is the software giant, but has had little success selling hardware. Sony is the leading TV manufacturer and one of the top five makers of VCRs, but has traditionally relied on others for the software that fills its boxes. Now each is trying to elbow the other out of the race to persuade consumers to pay more to set up custom programming, download movies or store family photos.

Microsoft and Sony think they can go it alone and establish the standard software platform that set-top boxes run on. This software would tap cable content, and be the base for other applications that could link with a home PC, manage saved content like previous Sopranos shows and movies.

A recently released version of Windows called XP Media Center Edition is a bundled PC and media hub that at the click of a button goes from a desktop-like display to a larger, TV-like one. It has so far been relegated to niche users like techie college kids. Microsoft envisions some version of this software becoming the home platform that links all devices.

“We see the TV as the central broadband point of the home,” says Sony spokesperson Greg Dvorken. Sony this week introduced RoomLink, a software that allows viewers to see PC content through their televisions. For Microsoft, the central broadband hub will be the PC.

Different viewpoints…will it the PC or TV at the centre of home entertainment?

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Linux in Schools

Michael Surran writes about Linux from Kindergarten to High School, and his experience of moving one school to Linux: “Switching to open-source software running on the Linux operating system has been the right choice, allowing us to provide our students with modern equipment and software for a fraction of the cost of a computer lab running proprietary software. If Linux continues to grow in popularity and gain a foothold in the workplace, we will look back at our choice as one of the most important decisions we’ve ever made.”

Also see: Slashdot Discussion.

Its a topic I will visit soon in the context of the 5KPC ecosystem in the education segment.

TECH TALK: The Rs 5,000 PC Ecosystem: The Concept

Lets first build out on the Rs 5,000 PC (5KPC) concept. What are we talking about? What will this computer do? What are the complementary elements we will need to make this happen?

The 5KPC is, in essence, a thin client, a network computer. It lights up in the presence of a network. Without the connection to a thick server, it has very limited use. This is very similar to a cellphone or a television today. Both need networks to function. Without the cellular network, the cellphone is little more than a clock and good for a few games. Without the cable network, the television screen displays only static. In fact, think of some of the other devices we use our regular landline telephone and radio. Both are network devices in the sense that without the connectivity they are useless.

The desktop computer started its life as a standalone device because when it was launched the data networks were almost non-existent. So, a lot of smarts were built into the device, leveraging Moores Law to keep a cycle of increasing processing power, cheaper memory and storage, and a wide array of peripherals. The network connections came in later in the form of the phone and Ethernet connections. The next big leap for tomorrows computers will be 802.11 (WiFi) connectivity. All of the additional complexities for the standalone computer meant that the cost started at a few thousand dollars and is now down to a few hundred dollars. But they are still too expensive for most of the users outside of the developed markets.

This is the context for the 5KPC. Whats needed is a computer which costs no more than Rs 5,000 (USD 100), and offers software and communications for no more than Rs 250 (USD 5) apiece per month. At the same time, this should have the form factor and performance of the latest computers we are used to. So far, the discussion on affordability has always meant reducing the form factor to that of a handheld computer (a PDA). We are not talking of that. What we are saying here is how can we get a desktop computer with a keyboard, mouse and monitor for the Rs 5,000 budget.

The 5KPC is actually a PC terminal, connecting to a thick server via a network. It can even be thought of as an embedded PC. All the processing and storage is done on the server, with the 5KPC essentially being a display and user interface machine. (In that sense, it is very much like the Tablet PC one could in fact, call the 5KPC a Table PC!).

By shifting processing to the server, we can dumb the machine down to being a Pentium 1 class machine (100-200 Mhz), and with very little memory (2-32 MB, depending on the network connection available). It has a network interface and support for the basic peripherals keyboard, mouse and monitor. It also could have a USB interface. What it does not have is a hard disk, floppy drive or a CD-ROM drive.

Tomorrow: The Concept (continued)

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