What is the need for a Word Processor?

David Galbraith has some interesting questions:

Why follow the same product breakdown as Microsoft at all? Do you really need fully fledged applications for ‘word processing’, spreadsheets, presentation?

I rarely use a fully fledged ‘word processor’ and would rather see a completely different view of software, built around a modular framework with a plugin architecture for developers. These plugins could be local or distributed, like locally cacheable web services. I.E. you could remotely load a French spellchecker on demand whilst editing text.

Why not take the principal activities of desktop computing: editing (text, bitmaps, grids, video etc.); publishing (to HTML, XML, PDF); retrieving (a full text database filesystem) and make them modular components of a universal framework application, an extension of the operating system.

I think the basic principle is well articulated. For example, I’d like to have a “writing area” (which could be Open Office Word) which can then interact with a publishing tool for writing to a blog. Today, I write in a text box which has little formatting capabilities and no spell checker. Componentising activities we do into modular apps is a good way to go. Its something we should explore in Emergic because we have no legacy to worry about.

Workplace Manifesto

Bruce Mau has a nice collection of idead [via Shrikant Patil]. The 3 that I liked:

Allow events to change you. You have to be willing to grow. Growth is different from something that happens to you. You produce it. You live it. The prerequisites for growth: the openness to experience events and the willingness to be changed by them.

Love your experiments (as you would an ugly child). Joy is the engine of growth. Exploit the liberty in casting your work as beautiful experiments, iterations, attempts, trials, and errors. Take the long view and allow yourself the fun of failure every day.

Harvest ideas. Edit applications. Ideas need a dynamic, fluid, generous environment to sustain life. Applications, on the other hand, benefit from critical rigor. Produce a high ratio of ideas to applications.

Web Services

NYT writes about Web Services:

Web services standards — developed by industry and academic computer scientists — seek to enable machine-to-machine communication, allowing corporate and personal databases to transport information seamlessly. The goal is a new level of computer-mediated automation in business and personal transactions, promising big gains in productivity and convenience.

The race to deliver Web services will shape competition in the computer business over the next several years. And there are broadly two paths: Microsoft on one side and a handful of major software competitors on the other side, including I.B.M., BEA Systems, Sun Microsystems and Oracle.

While the Microsoft approach links Web services technology closely to its operating system, the other camp is putting the technology in a layer of software separate from the operating system, called middleware. That lets it run on a variety of operating systems.

Adds Dave Winer:

Web Services are technology for gluing desktop applications to each other and to centralized servers over the Internet. It’s the next layer on the Web, a little higher level than XML and HTTP (on which it builds). To see the furthest development of Web Services look no further than the weblog world, where new tools are being created in just this model, actually for quite a few years.

NYT’s Aggresive Stance

Stories about the media in the media always make interesting reading, especially if it happens to be about one of your favourite media sources. Ever since I started buying the New York Times regularly during my Columbia Days, I have enjoyed reading the paper. I also subscribed some time ago to the International Herald Tribune (now owned entirely by NYT). The website is a must-read daily. I read recently (I think it was the WSJ) about the NYT planning half-screen-sized ads on their website like what we are used to seeing in magazines.

This WSJ story has more:

For years, the Times was one of the most staid companies in a staid industry. But since Mr. Sulzberger took over in 1997, the Times has learned to throw its weight around. To push its brand overseas, it leaned on an unwilling Washington Post Co. to part with its stake in the International Herald Tribune, a Paris-based paper they had published jointly for more than 30 years. The Times took a tough line with book publisher Random House Inc. and online news service TheStreet.com Inc. to extricate itself from unfavorable relationships. And the Times has thrown sharp elbows in promoting its paper at colleges, irking rival Gannett Co.

Rather than following the traditional newspaper-industry route of protecting its flagship paper from economic swings by acquiring other businesses, Mr. Sulzberger is deploying his company’s brand name more than ever before by means of cable television, book publishing, national newspapering — and now international print journalism. Times executives say they’re trying to make their once-neglected business side the equal of the company’s respected newsroom.

Imagination

As we grow older, we seem to be lose our ability to Imagine. I remember as a child and teenager imaging about the world of the future. Computers. Space. Intelligent Buildings. Robots. I’d listen to programmes on BBC World Service like “Science in Action” and “Discovery” and dream about the future. Somewhere down the line, I’ve stopped doing it. I’ve become too caught up with the present and immediate future.

Which is not right. I need to be thinking more of life and technology 5-10 years out, or even beyond. If I cannot the worlds of tomorrow, how will I work on creating those? I need to free myself up for a few days once in a while to reflect less on the present and more on the future, to get a sense of how all the things that are happening (and not happening) can make a difference.

Perhaps, its the reading which has changed me. Now, more of my time is in shorter chunks which I spend reading more “microcontent”. Its been quite some time since I read science fiction or magazines and sites other than the ones dealing with business, management and technology.

The attention span has reduced, in keeping with the nature of what I am doing. I would not think twice about spending hours listening to radio or while away an afternoon reading a novel. I only managed to read “Lord of the Rings” (for the second time) a year ago because I was sick and in bed for 2 days. Life shouldn’t be like this.

Imagination is our most wonderful asset. Its a pity we make so little use of it. I need to rediscover some part of me that I left behind 20-25 years ago in one corner of this world, and use that as a springboard to let the mind roam ahead free and far away.

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

How can the Rs 5,000 PC (5KPC) make a difference in education? First, well take a look at schools. In India, there are 1.2 million schools. Today, few of these schools have computer labs. The focus of the 5KPC should be to enable the creation of computer labs in every school in every emerging market. By teaching about computers from an early age, we are preparing the next generation from the IT-enabled era. In todays times, it is not good enough to be just literate one need to be computer-literate.

Let us consider the economics. Consider a school with 1,000 children. The first objective should be to setup a computer lab with 10 computers. While the ratio of 1 computer for every 100 children, it is a start. What would it cost? 10 computers for Rs 5,000 apiece with a thick server for Rs 30,000 and software for Rs 20,000 make the base cost Rs 100,000. Other costs would be networking (Rs 10,000), a printer (Rs 5,000). The total costs would be Rs 115,000 (or about USD 2,300).

Recurring costs would be for maintenance Rs 1,000 per 5KPC and Rs 3,000 for the server and printer, making an aggregate of Rs 13,000 (USD 260). Taken over a 3-year period, the total costs are Rs 141,000. Take into account some financing costs, and we are probably looking at a 3-year total cost of ownership of about Rs 170,000 to Rs 180,000 (about USD 3,600), which works out to a per student per annum cost of Rs 60 (USD 1.20), or Rs 5 per month (10 cents).

[As an exercise, let us compare this cost with that of new PCs and Microsoft software. The cheapest new PCs in India will cost about Rs 20,000 each, with maintenance costs of Rs 1,600 after the first year. Microsofts software (Windows and Office) is available for the education segment for Rs 2,500 per annum. Thus, the three-year cost of ownership for a 10-computer lab is Rs 232,000 for the hardware and Rs 75,000 for the software, for an aggregate of Rs 307,000 (USD 6,000). This compares with Rs 126,000 for the 5KPC solution. Thus, for every 2 schools equipped with new PCs and Microsoft software, one could provide the 5KPC solution in 5 schools.]

For this investment in technology, a student will get about half-hour of shared computer usage per week. Heres the calculation for that: a day has 10 periods of 30 minutes each, with 5 days a week. This makes for 25 hours of education a child gets per week. This is also the computer time available for use. Across 1,000 students, this works out to 40 students an hour on 10 computers. Or, put differently, two students per computer per half-hour. Over a year (9 months of education), the student will get about 18-20 hours of computer education.

The above calculations do not take into account two other significant costs: the cost of the IT curriculum, and the salary for the teachers. Let us assume that the IT curriculum is available for Rs 100 per student per annum, including the cost of the text book. The IT curriculum would cover the basics of computing, logic, programming languages, the various applications, and so on. (On a separate note, I happened to see one of the text books being used in a school in India. I was shocked to find the concepts being taught at least 10-15 years old the discussion in one of the chapters centred around IBM PC XTs and ATs! Obviously, a relook at the curriculum and standardisation will be needed.)

The schools will also need two teachers, at Rs 3,500 per teacher per month. Over a year, the teach costs work out to Rs 84 per student per annum. Thus, the total cost for providing education in schools is as follows:

Cost of technology: Rs 60
Cost of IT curriculum: Rs 100
Cost of teachers: Rs 84
Aggregate Cost: Rs 244 per student per annum, or about USD 5.

Tomorrow: Schools (continued)

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