News Readers

Writes JD Lasica:

The explosion of weblogs and niche news sites poses a problem for any info-warrior: Who the heck has time to read all this stuff?

Well, here’s one possible solution: news readers — a new crop of software programws that fetch updated dispatches from your favorite online writers, bloggers or news outfits.

Instead of the hunt and peck of Web surfing, you can download or buy a small program that turns your computer into a voracious media hub, letting you snag headlines and news updates as if you were commanding the anchor desk at CNN.

One of the chief virtues of news readers is that they propel users into an immediate online dialogue, whether through e-mails, discussion boards or blog entries. Interactivity is much more vibrant when the news is fresh. “News readers help to build community,” says Matthew Gifford, a Web developer in Bloomingdale, Ill. “You can see the ebb and flow of ideas around the network much better now.”

RFIDs and Life in 2013

ZDNet envisions an RFID-centric view of a day in the office in 2013:

It’s 7:00 am. Gregor Samson parks his car in the company garage and heads for his office. An embedded sensor in the car confirms that Gregor has arrived and is parked in his assigned spot.

The door to reach the lobby opens automatically as Gregor’s RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) tag and facial patterns are recognized. He heads for the coffee station to rev up for the day. The coffee maker knows his preferences from his RFID and starts cranking out a double latte with lowfat milk. The economy is tough, so the company is charging a nominal fee for beverages. The coffee machine wirelessly communicates the charge to Gregor’s account.

As Gregor walks down the hallway, he scans his PDA, which is fitted on his left wrist, for the latest messages and sports scores. Sensors in his eyeglasses allow him to scroll without touching the device.

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10 Emerging Technologies

Tech Review “identifies the developments that will dramatically affect the way we live and workand profiles the leading innovators behind them”:

Wireless Sensor Networks
Injectable Tissue Engineering
Nano Solar Cells
Grid Computing
Molecular Imaging
Nanoimprint Lithography
Software Assurance
Quantum Cryptography

Oracle’s Strategy

From Barron’s:

Oracle’s business consists of three basic elements. At the heart is database software, which accounts for 80% of its software-licensing revenue. The enterprise-software business is smaller, but crucial to Oracle’s growth. Two-thirds of Oracle’s revenue actually comes from services, primarily annual fees for technical support and software upgrades, which run customers about 22% a year of what they originally pay for their software.

Oracle faces two key challenges for its core database operations. The first is the maturity of its market. Some analysts doubt growth in database demand can now exceed single-digit rates. Oracle also faces competition from two formidable rivals: IBM and Microsoft. The strength of IBM remains the mainframe. Microsoft, meanwhile, is the leader in simpler departmental databases.

An update on Oracle’s Collaboration Suite…

It has long been Ellison’s mantra that 95% of all data don’t yet find their way into databases. That’s precisely the story behind Oracle’s Collaboration Suite, software introduced last summer. Aimed squarely at e-mail server software such as Microsoft Exchange and IBM’s Lotus Notes, Collaboration Suite takes e-mail, voice mail, calendars, Word documents, Excel files and PowerPoint presentations, and stores them all in an Oracle database. Oracle thinks this approach can greatly pare administrative costs and provide new functions such as voice mail in users in-boxes while allowing them to stick with their Microsoft Outlook desktop software.

While the product has been slowly gaining traction, it’s hard to predict whether it can eat into the installed base of Exchange users. Ellison says he could get 10% of the market — or 50%. “The interesting thing about Exchange is that it was a little departmental system, never intended to be an enterprise-wide mission-critical system. It doesn’t have the security, it doesn’t have the reliability, and it’s very labor-intensive to operate. We think we can cut your labor costs by 90%.”

..and on its applications software business:

Oracle thinks it can rev up applications sales by offering them to customers as a service, via its nascent outsourcing division. It’s the return of an idea that popped up in the bubble days — the application-service provider. But this time, it makes sense. Buying, administering and maintaining enterprise applications and the associated hardware and storage costs a fortune. So rather than handle it in-house, why not outsource to Oracle? The company now offers customers the option of handing over administration of their applications, whether at a customer site, at Oracle or at a third-party location. So far, about 500 Oracle customers have signed on; the company says outsourcing grew more than 50% in the latest quarter, though from a small base.

The idea, says Oracle’s outsourcing president, Tim Chou, is simply to reduce the administrative costs of running software, which by some estimates runs as much as four times the original cost of the application every year. In other words, Chou says, pay $1 million for a software license, and you’ll shell out about $20 million to support it over five years.

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IBM attacking Sun with Linux

From Barron’s:

IBM has made Linux a commercial factor. Linux specialists like Red Hat Software were there, sure, but Red Hat’s still losing money on operations, with revenues running at an annual rate of just $100 million a year. And while the inventors of Linux may have thought they were creating an alternative to the software monopoly of Microsoft Windows, IBM has used Linux as a brilliant attack on Sun Microsystems. Sun’s most successful business is the sale of proprietary computers running Unix software, an operating system similar to Linux.

Giving away Linux on cheap Intel-based hardware, IBM can undercut the price of Sun’s computers and still make money on proprietary IBM software and consulting services. At LinuxWorld, IBM announced new Linux computers and a Linux version of its Tivoli software for automating data centers.

While IBM profited nicely on December quarter sales of $24 billion (nearly half of that from consulting), Sun still suffered a slight operating loss on $2.9 billion in sales for the same period.

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Network Theory

From NYTimes:

Network scientists study networks: collections of people or objects connected to each other in some way. Think of the 1.5 million Manhattan residents or the 30,000 genes inside a human cell. Such networks, scientists argue, behave in ways that can’t be understood solely in terms of their component parts. Without knowing what every single person or object within the network is doing, they say, it’s nevertheless possible to know something about how the network as a whole behaves.

Stated that way it sounds simple. But as an intellectual approach, network theory is the latest symptom of a fundamental shift in scientific thinking, away from a focus on individual components – particles and subparticles %u2014 and toward a novel conception of the group. As Mr. Barabasi, a professor of physics at the University of Notre Dame, put it: “In biology, we’ve had great success stories – the human genome, the mouse genome. But what is not talked about is that we have the pieces but don’t have a clue as to how the system works. Increasingly, we think the answer is in networks.”

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TECH TALK: The Rs 5,000 PC Ecosystem: The WiFi Advantage

The Rs 5,000 PC (5KPC) is not going to bring about a revolution on its own. It needs to leverage other developments and technologies which together can enable the formation of an affordable computing ecosystem. Last week, we discussed briefly two of the elements of this ecosystem: the thick server and open-source software. The thick server is the one which does all the computing and storage. Open-source software is the platform for the applications. There is one additional element of the ecosystem we need to discuss before we go ahead: WiFi.

WiFi (802.11) offers wireless communications using open spectrum (2.4 Ghz and 5 Ghz) at speeds ranging from 11 Mbps (802.11b) to 54 Mbps (802.11g and 802.11a). The cost of wireless access points has fallen to under USD 100, while the cost of the cards required in the computers is down to under USD 50. In the next year, the incremental cost of adding WiFi to a computer is likely to be under USD 10 (Rs 500), as companies integrate the technology on to the motherboard itself. Hotspots (public wireless access points) are sprouting up all over the place in many countries.

Wrote William Gurley of Benchmark Capital in his recent Above the Crowd newsletter:

WiFi is to 3G as the personal computer was to the mainframe.

In the early days of the PC, most people considered the initial market for the IBM/Intel/Microsoft-based personal computer to be fairly narrow. In 1980, no one envisioned that one day you might run your company’s entire ERP system, or power a massive array of web sites on this technical architecture. However, the “increasing return” forces highlighted above eventually created a product that, from both a feature perspective and cost perspective, was appealing to a much broader array of applications and uses than ever previously envisioned.

This exact thing is currently happening with 802.11. This tiny, and increasingly inexpensive radio is already shockingly versatile. The same $30 radio can be used to serve wireless connectivity in your office, connect both your PCs and your multimedia in your home, and provide coverage to a police force across an entire downtown area. Add a Pringles can as a directional antenna (no kidding!), and this $30 radio is capable of providing high-speed, line-of-sight connectivity at a distance of 10 miles. In fact, the majority of the volume in the line-of-sight fixed wireless market has shifted almost entirely to low-cost 802.11 radios.

Originally designed to connect PCs and handheld computers to the network, people are now using these low cost radios for an increasing number of diverse customer applications. In remote areas, 802.11 can be used as a DSL alternative. Hospitals are using 802.11 not just to connect doctors and nurses but also to connect hospital equipment. 802.11 is a wonderful solution for industrial sensors in remote monitoring as well as control equipment designed to intelligently manage such things as power and HVAC systems. You can even use 802.11 to build an extremely cost effective video surveillance network. It is also feasible that 802.11 will be the driving force behind a wholesale conversion to VOIP and an entirely new phone structure in the enterprise.

So, why is WiFi almost free? The answer is (1) because the price of the parts could go as low as $5 over the next five years, and (2) because the entire PC industry has a vested interest in seeing 802.11 dominate over 3G. As such, within a matter of years, 802.11 will be a standard feature on every single portable computer, with a marginal cost to the consumer of $0.00.

Tomorrow: The WiFi Advantage (continued)

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