Open-Source Computing Shift

WSJ quotes Michael Dell:

CIOs are increasingly turning their sights toward open-standards-based computing, which will eventually relegate proprietary technology to a niche.

There’s no question standardization is taking hold with an increasingly large portion of the enterprise opportunity.

CIOs are embracing standards-based computing because it’s easy to install and allows them to drive out more costs. The acceptance of open standards isn’t only finding its way into the hardware sector but also operating systems and services.

Linux is the fastest-growing operating system. Based on industry estimates, expectations are for 90% of companies to be using open-source software in one form or another by 2004.

RSS2Mail Requirements

Michael Sippey writes about Proxies and Local Servers, and outlines the requirements for an RSS

– POP mail accounts, tag and filter into a local mail store
– Fetch RSS feeds, parse and filter into that same mail store
– Offer IMAP daemon for access by your client of choice
– Web UI for administration (easiest way to get to cross-platform)
– XML-RPC or SOAP interface for “thumbs up / thumbs down” message scoring (“this is spam / this isn’t spam” for email, and “more like this / less like this” for news items)

Except for the last one, our RSS2Mail project is doing exactly that. Just wait a while…

SMS for Government

Steven Lang writes about how SMS can be a killer app for e-government, quoting Andile Ngcaba, the director general in the department of communications in South Africa:

Focussing on a PC-centric environment in terms of developing applications but that there is no reason why a similar effort should not be put into developing mobile-centric applications.

We are busy researching this together with some companies and in the institute of research at ESA so that we are able to optimise SMS for purposes of providing information services to people. For example if maybe you have applied for something in government, you can be informed by SMS, that your particular service that you required is available and ready. Come and collect it.

Personal Panopticon

There is a nice description of a panopticon:

The Panopticon of Jeremy Bentham is an architectural figure which “incorporates a tower central to an annular building that is divided into cells, each cell extending the entire thickness of the building to allow inner and outer windows. The occupants of the cells . . . are thus backlit, isolated from one another by walls, and subject to scrutiny both collectively and individually by an observer in the tower who remains unseen. Toward this end, Bentham envisioned not only venetian blinds on the tower observation ports but also mazelike connections among tower rooms to avoid glints of light or noise that might betray the presence of an observer.”

The Panopticon thus allows seeing without being seen.

Anil Dash applies this idea to the individual, describing it as an “an always-on record of a person’s life.”

The necessary evolution is for personal publishing tools to start to allow far more granular control over permissions for reading the content that they generate. This doesn’t just apply to the audio we’ve recorded with our always-on iPods, but to the text we’re publishing to our weblogs as well. It should also encompass the new text that we’ll feel comfortable adding to our weblogs once we know that we can control access to our sites with at least the level of control that LiveJournal take for granted right now.

Weblog publishing tools will grow to allow us each to create a personal panopticon, at least to the degree that we’re comfortable doing so.

TECH TALK: Transforming Rural India: TeleInfoCentre (Part 2)

Computers and monitors do not go bad in 3-4 years, which is the typical upgrade cycle in the developed world. They can easily be used for many more years, provided the processing and storage can be moved to the server. The thin clients become graphical terminals or more appropriately, PC Terminals.

The second approach to sourcing low-cost computers is to use computers with the VIA chipset and motherboard. VIA is the third company after Intel and AMD which makes x86-compatible CPUs. Their cheaper, lower-speed CPUs bring down the cost of the client, making it possible to get a new computer (excluding monitor) for prices as low as Rs 6,500 (USD 130). An old monitor costs Rs 2,000 (USD 40) while a new one costs double of that. A TV could also be used as a monitor, in case prices have to be brought down further.

The third approach is to use handheld computers, PDAs or cellphones as thin clients. The Simputer project in India has created a Linux PDA which is a full-fledged computer, at prices starting at Rs 10,000 (USD 200). Perhaps, it could be simplified further to work in a LAN environment as a thin client to bring the cost down to a more affordable Rs 5,000. Of course, this will mean that the users will get a smaller screen as compared to a 14-inch monitor from a regular desktop computer used as a thin client.

On the software front, the thin clients support all the basic applications that users would need: an email client, a web browser, an Office suite (word processor, spreadsheet, presentation application), instant messaging, printing and the ability to read/write PDF files. There should be support for both English and local languages for each of the applications.

The software platform used is Linux, along with various open-source applications. This ensures a lower cost of ownership, along with the freedom to customise applications for the local needs. The various applications on Linux have become more than good enough in the past year, and can provide a desktop almost as good as Microsoft Windows.

For every key Windows application, there is an equivalent Linux application. Evolution from Ximian offers a mail client and personal information manager, creating an alternative for Outlook. Mozilla and derivatives like Phoenix and Galeon are web browsers which rival Internet Explorer. The OpenOffice suite of applications (Write, Calc and Impress) offers much of the functionality found in Microsoft Office (Word, Excel and PowerPoint). More importantly, it can read and write most MS-Office file formats. In addition, since it uses XML for native file storage, OpenOffice can be extended to build custom applications easily. OpenOffice also has a built-in utility to create PDF files.

GAIM is a unified Instant Messaging application which can connect to the IM platforms of Yahoo, AOL, ICQ and MSN. Adobe Acrobat is available on Linux. Multimedia support is available in the form of mplayer. Gimp is an image-editing software. Java and Flash work on Linux. Open-source databases are also available, in the form of MySQL and PostgreSQL.

The total cost of putting this suite of applications together: zero.

The combination of server-centric computing, low-cost clients and open-source software is the foundation for creating an affordable solution for the computing infrastructure at the TeleInfoCentre.

Tomorrow: TeleInfoCentre (continued)

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