Beyond the Browser

As part of a series of reports on the 10th anniversary of the browser (Mosaic), contemplates the future. Some extracts:

The question for the browser then becomes what form it will take as the Internet is used increasingly for functions that go beyond simply reading Web pages. “The big challenge is does it get more specific in the foreground or expand to include all these background news-scanning functions,” said Clay Shirky, new media professor at New York University. “As Weblogs move from being interesting to important, do RSS newsreaders like NewsMonster become a separate application?”

“One of the disadvantages of the browser is that there aren’t very good ways of organizing information,” Macromedia’s Norm Meyrowitz said. “Bookmarks just don’t do the whole job. There’s no real sense of place for the information you want to come back to.”

Because browsers are passive, applications that take at least some of the initiative to find information relevant to the user are likely to gain ground. “One of the problems with the browser is that you’re going out to find information; the user has to fetch everything,” Meyrowitz said. “Sometimes people want to just have the information on their desktop. We think there’s a real need for applications that do that intelligently.”

Much of the future innovation will relate to information access, storage and retrieval. Using the email client and browser in tandem with blogs, RSS and outlines can craft an interesting mix. More on this next week.

Keeping Wireless Connections Alive

Rafe Needleman writes about how “new companies help laptops stay connected even when they move between networks.” The problem arises because “when you move from one connection to another you have to reestablish your link — computers today can’t just hand off a connection from a modem to Wi-Fi, for example.” One of the companies he mentions is ipUnplugged.

Using a small software component installed on the wireless computer, ipUnplugged enables a single security and billing system to handle all users, no matter how they connect to the network.

ipUnplugged also allows real-time roaming among different networks. For example, if a cellular-data user walks into a building with Wi-Fi coverage, the software can redirect the network connection to the faster and cheaper Wi-Fi network, without any interruption in the data flow. Very fancy.

ipUnplugged’s primary selling point is its integrated security and access control, rather than its real-time multinetwork switching capability, because few companies will pay to provide multimode network handoff to their users (few business users need a live connection maintained while they walk in and out of buildings).

Universal Business Language

It may be a good idea for us to look at UBL, which according to InfoWorld “defines a library of XML-based electronic-business documents for standardizing functions such as purchase orders and invoices.”

It plugs directly into existing traditional business, legal, and records management practices and eliminates the re-keying of data in existing fax- and paper-based supply chains, according to Sun’s Jon Bosak. It also fills the “payload” slot, or document format, in b-to-b commerce frameworks such as the UN/OASIS ebXML initiative and various Web services schemes, said Bosak.

The reason why UBL looks interesting is that it could be useful for SMEs. Bosak stressed “that a UBL infrastructure could level the playing field for smaller companies that need to conduct electronic business with large companies with expensive EDI systems…I think this is how the developing world gets into the party.”

MySQL Interview

MySQL is one of the most popular open-source databases. The question is: is to to Oracle what Linux is to Windows? More from an InfoWorld interview with MySQL’s CEO MrtenMickos:

MM: The typical customer has plenty of, say, DB2 installations, and they come to us and say, Couldn’t we use you in some of those instead? Today those applications are typically Web sites, Web applications and intranets, that’s one area. The second area is administration — network administration, authorization, database log-in, and also logging data, for systems management. The third area is data warehousing, where you have masses of data being dumped in and out. Then we are at the edge of the enterprise. We’re not a typical datacenter database today but we are a good fit at the edge — at the departmental level and in remote locations. That’s where you can use us.

That [databases are a commodity] is our assumption. Being a commodity market is not a black and white issue, it’s about proportions. You say, how much of the database market is a commodity, and we say, whatever is a commodity, that’s where we’ll act. There will always be a non-commodity segment too and that’s fine, we’re not making any claims there.

We had roughly 3,000 a year ago, and we have 4,000 now. It is growing rapidly so, if we added 1,000 last year we’ll add roughly 2,000 to 3,000 this year…We are now breaking even so, on a quarterly basis we are profitable.

China Driving Asian Tech

From Business Week:

A great race is progressing across Asia. China is determined to be a technological superpower. It is prepared to spend billions of dollars to nurture innovation and new technological standards…Korea is spending just as heavily to make high-speed Internet access as ubiquitous as electric power and to erect a whole new industry upon this fiber-optic foundation. Not about to be outdone, Japan is blazing pathways in so-called intelligent networks and nanotechnology.

The article talks about how China’s thrusts are putting pressure on Japan and South Korea. More:

To raise their stature in global high tech, the Chinese are pursuing a potentially risky strategy. The government is offering subsidies and other sweeteners to companies that come up with homegrown alternatives to Microsoft software, Intel microprocessors, Cisco routers, and other standards that are the building blocks of an information economy. The twin risks are that China will alienate the multinationals it depends on for technology transfer while its focus on originality distracts local companies from the low-cost manufacturing they do best. Nonetheless, in a drive to reduce royalty payments on foreign technology and reward local innovators, Beijing seems intent on setting global standards for everything from digital TVs and DVD players to next-generation cell phones.

The article could have also added that India is putting pressure on others in the outsourced services business.

Here is an example of wat China is doing. ZDNet writes about how various Chinese portals are coming together “in a government-backed search engine alliance which challenges global giants such as Google. The search engine — developed by the China Internet Information Centre and Chinese firm Sinobet in September last year — links to a database of more than 30,000 mainland portals, including most of China’s key official news Web sites.”

TECH TALK: Transforming Rural India: Emergent Democracy

If India is to realise the vision of its Prime Minister and President (echoing the feeling of its populace) that the country should become a developed nation by 2020, the need is for a bottom-up revolution, which does not stop at Indias villages, but starts with them. The need is to consider people not as our biggest problem, but our greatest strength. What has been missing so far has been a framework in which the mix of villages, people and technology can be magically combined to build a New India an India which is transformed from a democracy into an Emergent Democracy.

An Emergent Democracy is one in which people across the chain, from the villages to the cities, are empowered and have a say in governance not just through their vote, but by active participation in discussion and execution. By leveraging the power of the people in a bottom-up manner where the whole mass is much greater than the sum of the individuals. It is a nation which truly makes governance of the people, by the people and for the people.

The ideas that we have discussed here a network of TeleInfoCentres in every village connected together into a Village InfoGrid, and complemented by Intelligent, Real-Time Governance will lead to reduced information asymmetry between administration and the citizens. It will provide for real-time feedback on schemes and problems, with solutions also being provided by people themselves.

It will also increase efficiency, transparency and accountability and reduce corruption. In addition, it creates a local technology ecosystem that is not just beneficial as India seeks to deepen and widen its technology base and build out a knowledge-driven society, but also self-sustaining, replicable and viable.

Last Word

Writing in his book The Elephant Paradigm: India Wrestles with Change, Gurcharan Das has a section on The Ambiguous Village. There are two diametrically opposite views on Indias villages. He writes:

Mahatma Gandhi was a man of the city but he had the most romantic view of the countryside. He dreamt of building a modern India around self-governing village republics: My idea of village swaraj is that is a complete republic independent of its neighbours for its own vital wants and yet inter-dependent for many others.

Jawaharlal Nehru disagreed with Gandhi, saying that a village, normally speaking, is backward intellectually and culturally and no progress can be made from a backward environment.

Urban India wants this century to belong to India. No nation can progress leaving behind more than two-thirds of its populace. The tools of technology in the form of TeleInfoCentres, the Village InfoGrid and Intelligent, Real-Time eGovernance are at hand. The choice of transforming or ignoring Rural India is in our hands.

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