Personal to Joint Productivity

Ray Ozzie has a commentary on how our personal lives and tools we are using are evolving. It is a point I had made a couple days ago in a slightly different context. Ozzie takes it further:

Just as the first generation of personal computers was mostly about personal productivity, the first generation of the Internet has largely been about centralized Web sites, used for publishers, transactions and e-mail. For the most part, all seems well and good. At a personal level, however, many of us are overwhelmed. We’re chained to e-mail and the Web, drowning in an information flood that leaves us feeling more and more like human message-processing machines.

Each of us will soon face hundreds, thousands, or tens of thousands of “inputs” that we’ll need to continuously absorb and coordinate. A world with complex social, economic, organizational and personal interdependencies is inevitable. And as we near this linked future, systems and technologies must evolve or we will simply be unable to cope.

Ozzie describes a notion of a “virtual workspace” (which is what his company – Groove – focuses on).

A distinct third layer will emerge between the operating system and productivity layers. Think of it as a “virtual workspace” layer that links together all of your own computers and those operated by people with whom you work. The workspace will become as common in our lexicon as is the folder today. But more than just a container of files, the workspace will be a flexible container that brings together people, information and the tools relevant to the nature of your work. Many of today’s operating system concepts will migrate into this layer as most of what you do will involve other people and computers.

The next 10 years will find us moving decidedly from an era of personal productivity to one of joint productivity and social software. That will involve a move from tightly coupled systems to more loosely coupled interconnections. It will be an era of highly interdependent systems and relationships, with technology continuing to reshape the nature of organizations, economy, society and personal lives.

My perspective is that now, more than ever, we need the Memex. This is a vision first articulated by Vannevar Bush in 1945, and one I am writing about in my Tech Talk series in the context of the tools and technologies we have available today. Within enterprises, the Memex will need to be extended to work with enterprise events.

Cheap Revolution

Rich Karlgaard writes in Forbes about how the world is moving in the direction of the cheap revolution, and Christensen’s suggestions on how to escape it:

  • Improve your product offering faster than anybody else can. This tactic works, generally, only for market leaders with a good brand name, a greased distribution channel and financial might. (Think Intel.) And it works only as long as the market wants the added functionality and is willing to pay for it.
  • Sell fast custom solutions that answer a customer’s needs. Xilinx, with its programmable logic chips, does this. So does IBM, despite its size. IBM’s trick has been to go modular and bring into its Big Blue tent an army of third-party solutions providers. The old, highly integrated IBM would never have been able to react quickly enough to customers’ needs.
  • Find an unserved market and serve it cheaply. This is the way of the disrupter, says Christensen. The product or service should be so cheap, in fact, that the industry’s old guard thinks there’s no money to be made and walks away.
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    TECH TALK: Constructing the Memex: to Google

    As Yahoo prospered, along came search engines like Altavista, Excite, Lycos and Webcrawler. They had programs which crawled the web, bringing with them whole sets of pages. They would index the words in the pages. Now, the granularity went from searching for a site to a page, which helped get us to the content we were looking for much faster. Or at least that was how it should have been. But faced with a result pool of tens of thousands or even millions of pages which had our search terms, it was difficult to know where to begin (or end). And so, even as the Web grew, the search industry stagnated as it was weighed down by its own weight.

    Into this world came Google. Google also crawled the web. What was different about Google was the way it used to present the results. It used a technique called PageRank analysis, which ranked pages based on their incoming links and which pages linked to it. If an important page pointed to another page, then it was likely that the page pointed to was also quite authoritative. This is somewhat akin to people giving references to others. Who gives the references carries a lot of weightage.

    The turning point in the industry came when Yahoo decided to replace its outsourced search provider Inktomi with Google in June 2000. Inktomis stock fell 18% on the news. It is interesting to read a Red Herring article of that time:

    Up until Monday, Inktomi was the lead search engine provider to the top four Internet portals. Inktomi still provides primary search engine capabilities to Microsofts MSN, America Online and Lycos. And Inktomi has been in a similar situation with one of those companies before.

    “I wouldn’t be surprised if Yahoo bought Google,” says Tomas Isakowitz, an analyst with Janney Montgomery Scott. But despite the acquisition rumors, Mr. Isakowitz thinks that Yahoo switched to Google just to distinguish themselves from the competition.

    The story three years hence is very different. Yahoos 2003 revenues from all its services are expected to grow nominally to about USD 1.2 billion. Inktomi was bought by Yahoo recently. Privately held Googles 2003 revenues are expected to be USD 750 million, a 150% increase from 2002.

    The passing of the baton from Yahoo to Google over the past few years is symbolic of the evolution of search. This is a point made by Danny Sullivan, editor of Search Engine Watch: “In October 2002, Yahoo made the directory secondary to Google. Suddenly the value of getting listed in Yahoo seemed to disappear. Now, if you’re not listed with Yahoo, it may not matter.” Elwyn Jenkins of Microdocs makes a similar point: Yahoo rested on its laurels as a great Internet Directory, not thinking that search would overtake a directory service at some time. However, what searchers seem to want is the immediacy of search rather than the hand documented web that Yahoo gives.

    News.com highlights the transition from directory to search engines as the navigation norm on the Internet.

    Once the primary road signs to navigating the Internet, directories have moved to the shoulder. They are being displaced by algorithmic search tools and commercial services that many people now believe do a better job in satisfying Web surfers and advertisers. The transformation is bringing to an end an altruistic era of human editors, who once wielded significant clout in driving traffic to Web sites through recommendations made without regard for commercial considerations.

    How did Google come to dominate the search industry?

    Tomorrow: Googles Domination

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    Updated My Writings Section

    I updated the “My Best Writings” section which appears on the right panel of my blog. Have categorised the writings, added some more of them into the list and also put a date next to each. The date is very important – too often I see writings or links without an inkling of when it has been written. The date gives a context to the reader, and also an indication of how recent or old it is.

    Listing out the entries in categories helps readers know my thinking on the three primary areas whhich are my interests (Affordable Computing and ICT for Development, Enterprise Software and SMEs, and Information Management). Have also written a few articles on Entrepreneurship – more of personal experiences in my decade as an entrepreneur.

    To just give you an idea: my daily (Mon-Fri) writings as part of the Tech Talk series (wherein I take a topic and write about 500 words daily for multiple weeks) began in November 2000, and my blog began in May 2002. Writing and Blogging is very much an integral part of life now. I cannot imagine stopping!

    Swarm Computing

    Computerworld has a story on how it can “leverage on the strength of multitudes of components to overcome the power of monolithic systems.”

    Amorphous which means lacking definite form, of no particular type and lacking organisation is a concept that accepts heterogeneity as a way of life, yet allows very different components the ability to interact with one another in their own manner. This allows for many different interpretations for amorphous computing.

    Also known as swarm computing, amorphous computing emphasises the concept that a collective result that emerges from individual micro-level behaviours could provide a more efficient system. It is, in a sense, a form of bio-mimicry in which scientists get inspiration from nature. Amorphous computing is similar to the concept of a colony of cells cooperating to form a multi-cellular organism under the direction of a genetic programme shared by the members of the colony.

    Instead of a single monolithic system, the concept of amorphous computing tries to obtain coherent behaviours from the cooperation of large number of unreliable parts that are interconnected in unknown, irregular and time-variable ways.

    I have been thinking a little about this in reference to how the Memex can be built out. More on this in due course.

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    Spam is still Winning

    NYTimes writes about the remarkable rise of spam and how the marketers continue to find ways around the obstacles (legal, filters) that are being put up:

    The infestation is growing faster than the antispammers can keep up. Brightmail, which makes spam-filtering software for corporate networks and big Internet providers, says that 45 percent of the e-mail it now sees is junk, up from 16 percent in January 2002. America Online says the amount of spam aimed at its 35 million customers has doubled since the beginning of this year and now approaches two billion messages a day, more than 70 percent of the total its users receive.

    Indeed, the spam problem defies ready solution. The Internet e-mail system, designed to be flexible and open, is fundamentally so trusting of participants that it is easy to hide where an e-mail message is coming from and even what it is about.

    Another reason there is so much spam is that, with a simple computer hookup and a mailing list, it is remarkably easy and inexpensive to start a career in e-mail marketing. Companies that offer products like vitamins and home mortgages as well as those selling items like penis and breast enlargement kits will allow nearly any e-mail marketer to pitch their wares, paying a commission for any completed transaction.

    The microscopic cost of sending e-mail, compared with the price of postal mailings, allows senders to make money on products bought by as little as one recipient for every 100,000 e-mail messages.

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    Converging Tech and Entertainment

    If anyone can do it, it is Steve Jobs. Apple is launching an online music service soon, and there are reports that is planning to buy Vivendi Universal. SJ Mercury News writes:

    Jobs has tried to strike a balance between the entertainment industry’s protectionist stance toward music, and the attitude of some in the tech industry that consumers should be able to do what they please with their music files. When Jobs introduced Apple’s top-selling iPod music player in October 2001, he cautioned that entertainment industry efforts to lock digital content were doomed to fail — but he also gave reviewers a bag full of store-bought CDs to test the device. It was a statement that Apple does not condone music piracy.

    Still, why can Jobs waltz into Tinseltown and do deals others can’t? He has good references — among them Woody the cowboy and Sully the monster, characters that Jobs’ Pixar Animation Studios has created for blockbuster movies “Toy Story” and “Monsters, Inc.” Pixar has a track record of four successful animated films at a time when animated efforts from traditional powerhouses like Disney have failed. That means other entertainment executives are more willing to buy into his next idea.

    “Steve has engineered one of the most successful ventures in profitability in filmmaking over the past decade or two through the team he built at Pixar,” said Jeffrey Logsdon, entertainment industry analyst at Gerard Klauer Mattison. “He’s probably one of the most envied guys in Hollywood.”

    Shrikant Patil provides the wider perspective:

    Steve believes the only way out is the implementation of new business models which enable easy downloading of music, with any song at any time type of concept. The existing publishers are frozen to death because they worry cannibalization of their existing business, which seems to be more inevitable with every passing day. The best way to move forward is to buy one these frozen ducks and unleash their potential in the form of new services, the world has never experienced before. Apple has always demonstrated innnovation in their products and the first mover in many areas, always setting trends but always commercially limited by their volume economics and channel reach. With a music service on the internet they will be able to reach all parts of the globe, there is no part of the world that does not listen to music. If this service becomes a must have by consumers, more people will upgrade to broadband, store more music on their PCs and leave home with a iPOD type device.

    e-Estonia

    San Jose Mercury News writes about Estonia’s remarkable technology transformation. In 1991, most people didn’t even have a phone. The story is very different today.

    the country ranked No. 8 out of 82 countries in putting the Net to practical use in a recent World Economic Forum report. The country ranked No. 2 in Internet banking and third in e-government.

    Banking is actually booming in this former Soviet republic — via Internet. The number of Estonians who bank online soared from zero in 1997 to 700,000 this year. That’s half the country’s 1.4 million people.

    Many Estonians who now rely on wireless phones never had a landline phone. And most who now use the Internet to pay bills have never used a Western-style checkbook.

    About 70 percent of Estonians own mobile phones — about the same as the European Union average. Some 40 percent of Estonians have a home computer with online access. In business, online access is over 80 percent.

    Estonia’s second-largest bank recently began a service that lets people use mobile phones as debit cards at restaurants, hotels and gas stations.

    Picasso or Czanne?

    Business 2.0 writes about research by David W. Galenson “to explain how people innovate.

    Examining the relationship between age and earning power for 125 famous artists, Galenson identified two archetypes: Picassos are bold, conceptual thinkers who peak early and innovate in dramatic leaps, while Czannes are patient experimentalists who gradually improve with age. “All intellectual activity breaks in these two ways,” says Galenson, who has since found similar divisions in poets, economists, and, yes, corporate executives. The trick is to balance the two types of talent: A youthful flash of innovation can make your company hot, while steady, mature management can help build lasting greatness.

    – Picassos: Marc Andressen, Steve Jobs, Shawan Fawning Bill Gates.
    – Czannes: Craig Barrett, Meg Whitman, Reuben Mark, Richard Wagoner

    TECH TALK: Constructing the Memex: From Yahoo

    Let us begin by taking a look at how information management has evolved in the past decade thanks to the Internet.

    In the Yahoo days, the directory was at the centre of the world. Websites were categorised by human editors into appropriate categories. The taxonomy was at the heart of finding pages. One had to drill down through multiple levels of categories to get to the one that seemed to be the one we were interested in. Then, we clicked through to the website and began our search for information there. When we came across good sites, we bookmarked them in our browser, so the next time we did not have to go through the directory once again. Hard to believe, but this was how we navigated the Web maybe 5-6 years ago.

    Red Herrings October 1994 issue had this to say about Yahoo: Yahoo!’s value is obvious to anyone who’s surfed the Web, because it categorizes and creates paths to all the pages that are fit to read. As a vital directory, it’s virtually the operating system of the Internet. It is interesting to read what Yahoos founders, Jerry Yang and David Filo, said in an interview then:

    The volume of information on the Internet is for practical purposes an infinite problem, because not only is the content itself exploding, but the existing content is changing all the time. If you don’t have a committed way of doing it, you can throw any amount of money at it and not solve the problem.” Therefore, nobody can be the final solution, and we are just one alternative. The goal, which is fairly modest, is to make the Internet intuitive for the user and to act as a starting point, not an end. It’s kind of a discovery experience. Our vision is to provide different ways of viewing that content, whether it’s through hierarchy or through a search or through customization.

    Ultimately, the best tool is the human brain. Obviously, leveraging our users will be the best form of artificial intelligence The search part of it, whether visible or invisible, will be a big part of our operationsOur goal is to create an artificial intelligence library and list sites with different degrees of relevance, instead of just alphabetically. So sites that are definitely relevant are listed first, whereas others that may not be as relevant come after. But that’s going to be a manual editorial process over time, because I think that no amount of artificial intelligence can establish the inference needed. The more context you have, the better it is over time, but we’re not building context for context’s sake. If it’s one of those categories no one ever visits, why build context for it? The context-sensitive retrieval is very powerful if you can get it to work, but you have to manage people’s expectations.

    News.com provides a historical perspective:

    Conceived by co-founders Jerry Yang and David Filo in a Stanford trailer in 1994, much of Yahoo’s popularity was built on the directory’s ability to give order and organization to the unruly Web. As legend has it, Yahoo was developed by Yang and Filo as a way to categorize their favorite sumo wrestling Web sites. Even the company name–originally the acronym “Yet Another Hierarchical Officious Oracle”–highlighted its directory roots.

    Unlike the other search competitors that emerged in the mid-1990s, such as Excite, Lycos, Infoseek and AltaVista, Yahoo did not develop its technology to crawl through millions of Web sites. Instead, it hired humans to manually search the Web to find, organize and review sites about thousands of topics. Yahoo’s editorial team became an emblem of the Internet’s rise where legions of college graduates would do the heavy lifting to help Web newbies find what they want.

    Into this world came Google.

    Tomorrow: to Google

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    Uganda’s Wireless Healthcare Network

    A Wired article talks about how Uganda is planning to build a nationwide, wireless network for its healthcare-system based “on the cheap” using “the country’s existing cell-phone network, Palm handhelds and new battery-powered, wireless Linux servers.”

    Satellife’s system will be based on 3,000 to 5,000 Palm handhelds given to doctors and health-care workers in the field. The handhelds will be used for routine health administration, ordering and tracking medical supplies, delivering new treatment guidelines and, of course, communication.

    In the field, the handhelds will connect to inexpensive, battery-powered Linux servers set up across the country.

    Built by WideRay, a San Francisco startup, the Jack servers have built-in GPRS radios, which afford them an always-on connection to Uganda’s near-ubiquitous cell-phone network.

    About the size of a thick hardback textbook, the Jack servers act as “caching” servers, storing content sent to them over the cell network from the administration’s computers in Kampala. In turn, reports and e-mail received from the handhelds are relayed wirelessly back to the capital. The servers communicate with handhelds using an infrared link.

    The servers are powered by industrial-grade batteries and a single charge lasts up to a year.

    I would love to get an idea of the costs for such a project.

    UPS’ Next-Generation Wireless Computer

    UPS Press Release:

    The fourth generation of the Delivery Information Acquisition Device, or DIAD IV, incorporates new radio communication links that allow it to communicate almost anywhere, anytime; dramatically expanded memory, and a color screen that allows alert messages to be color-coded for drivers.

    The incorporation of three different types of radio communication links in each unit will ensure that package delivery information is available to customers almost instantaneously. The color screen will make life easier for drivers as well as customers signing for deliveries. Urgent customer pick-up messages, for example, can be color-coded to alert the driver. And the 128 megabytes of memory – 20 times that of the DIAD III – positions UPS to provide future features, like customer preference notes, to enable drivers to personalize service even more.

    A Slashdot thread adds that the device is based on “Symbol’s Fourth Generation hardware. Color screens, 128 megs of RAM, and uber-connected (GPS, GPRS, CDMA, WiFi, Bluetooth, Infrared, Analog modem), and, of course, the familiar barcode scanner.”

    Open Innovation

    IdeaFlow (Renee Hopkins on Corante) has an interview with Henry Chesbrough, the author of “Open Innovation” [1 2 3], whose thesis is that “the traditional model for innovation–which has been largely internally focused, closed off from outside ideas and technologies–is becoming obsolete. Emerging in its place is a new paradigm, ‘open innovation,’ which strategically leverages internal and external sources of ideas and takes them to market through multiple paths.”

    He has this to say about better innovation, as opposed to more innovation:

    I think of “more” as a quantity. I think of “better” as a quality of something. In this case, better innovation enables people to solve problems that are important to them. In business terms, these solutions are worth more to the consumer than they cost to provide, so the consumer is willing to pay what it costs for the solution, and gets more value than they pay in return. Better innovation not only enables people to do their tasks faster or easier, at its best it can enable people to do new tasks.

    Blogging and Ideas

    Elizabeth Lane Lawley has this to say about blogs and ideas:

    Most of the blogs that I read regularly go well beyond link-and-comment. If they link to an idea du jour, the do so because they have something to add, a new direction to explore. As a result, its not so much an echo effect as it is an opportunity to watch an idea emerge, grow, diverge, expand, be refuted, etc…The interlinking of ideas and content on weblogs, particularly given the linear time-based nature of the form, provides a fascinating window into the evolution of an idea.

    This draws a comment by Renee Hopkins:

    Link-and-comment blogs are great because by and large they are updated so often (drive-by blogging!) that theres generally a lot of *there* there, in terms of numbers of posts. Even if the poster hasn’t necessarily added much to the original idea, by doing the drive-by thing they are at least pollinating the idea to someone who may have time to comment.

    One particularly blog-specific method of building on ideas that I like to read and often use myself is to link to the original citation, add a comment, then use other links to related ideas to start fleshing out the divergent path suggested by the comments. I do this because Im at heart a researcher–though I wouldnt call myself obsessive about it (some have, though!). Research is the way I make sense of the world and ferret out connections. I dont necessarily have to see every single citation of a post before Ill comment on it, but I do like to dig a little into the subject, and/or related subjects, and see if a new connection presents itself–what would you call this, search-blogging?! Except that I generally dont link to the search results, but examine some of them and see if they suggest other maybe more productive search strings. The idea is to see if I can find any connections that might further the conversation around a particular idea.

    This also captures the way I tend to look at blogging. It helps in creating a flow of ideas, and at the same time a personal repository of interesting items, which can help in connecting up different strands together.

    TiVo’s Early Adopters

    Why TiVo Owners Can’t Shut Up is the title of the NYTimes story: “Not since the PalmPilot debuted in 1996 has a new electronic contraption sparked a cultlike following and so many zealous proselytizers…TiVo has around 700,000 subscribers a tiny fraction of American television viewers, 70 percent of whom have never even heard of TiVo, according to Josh Bernoff, an analyst at Forrester Research. But, Mr. Bernoff said, TiVo’s fans are a vocal minority.”

    TiVo is a personal video recorder, a kind of VCR on steroids that hooks up to a television and can record up to 80 hours of programming on a hard drive. Much of the media coverage about the device has focused on viewers’ ability to skip commercials at the touch of a button. But TiVo worshipers say that is only part of the gadget’s allure.

    Press a button, and TiVo will record every episode of “Six Feet Under,” or any other show, for a season. TiVo viewers can pause when the phone rings, or speed through the boring parts. By fast-forwarding through commercials and those dull conferences at the mound, a TiVo viewer can watch a baseball game in 40 minutes without missing a pitch. Sit-coms take about 22 minutes. “Saturday Night Live” and “60 Minutes” can be viewed back to back on Monday.

    Like early adopters of cellphones and the Internet, the first wave of users of personal video recorders swear that the devices have fundamentally altered their lives changing domestic routines, making it possible to live a life free of commercial interruptions and even providing the satisfaction of a rebellion against network goliaths.

    The devices also make it easier to watch a lot more TV. Studies by Next Research, a media consulting firm, show that TiVo users watch an average of five to six additional hours of television per week, the company said.

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    So Much To Do, So Little Time

    I was just thinking looking at the flow of emails and conversations I am engaged in – life wasn’t so complicated and fast-pacd just a decade ago. The number of people I was in touch in (or knew), the number of things I had pending at many given point of time, the number of ideas floating around, the number of bought books to read – all seem to have gone up by a factor of 10 in the past 10 years.

    And yet, we are essentially the same people and have the same amount of time. We do have a lot of technology to help us, but that only seems to have compounded the issue! What are the tips and tricks to managing in this new era? One of the things I’ve been thinking (which has been part of the motivation for the current tech Talk series on the Memex) is the ability to find people who are experts and trust their judgements and opinions (perhaps, where blogs came in). This is because we will simply not have enough time to go deep into a topic as we could have.

    The Net, weblogs and email essentially weave a web around us where people, ideas and information are separated by a few degrees. While it is easy to think of all of us separated by six degrees (that is, we are no more than six connections away from anyone), in reality, our universe is perhaps no more than two degrees — if you aren’t a friend of a friend, you are essentially unknown to me. This could also apply to ideas.

    Going ahead, I think we will build an ecosystem around us – of people, websites, blogs, ideas, information. When we want to find something or verify something, it is this group we will want to “search” first. This is the “context” of our life. The Memex needs to enable this.

    TECH TALK: Constructing the Memex: First Memories

    For much of human civilisation, we have had a single memory device our own brain. The world around was what we remembered, or at best, what others around us remembered. Part of the reason was that it was, arguably, a much less complex world, but more importantly, it was difficult to connect with others beyond a geographical vicinity. Our memory has served as well, in general. Of course, the problem is that we will never know what we arent aware of or cannot remember.

    In the past decade, the Internet has extended our world by making accessible a vast quantity of information that was unimaginable earlier in our lives. It started in the early days with bulletin boards and newsgroups, pooling together a collective of documents on a single server, and then the ease of hyperlinking combined with directories and search engines made the physical location of information irrelevant. If it was out there on the Internet, it could, in theory, be found.

    For many of us, our first Internet website memories are probably linked to Yahoo. Navigating through its hierarchy of categories or doing a search across helped us get to what we were looking for. Altavista and Excite started providing search within pages, allowing us to type a word or phrase and know that there were tens of thousands of matching documents.
    Google then came along and refined the process to perfection by using its PageRank algorithm, giving us results very much relevant to what we were looking for. In effect, Google became our other memory.

    This is an important development. Googles relevance and consistency in returning search results has ensured that we no longer need to communicate web addresses to each other in order to find specific information. If it is out there, Google will find it for us. Just like My Yahoo helped personalise news, stock quotes and the weather for us and thus became a utility for many, Google has become a utility when it comes to helping is find information that is out hidden in the billions of pages of the Web.

    Google does a great job in searching the Web. But there are still some things which it does not cover. Our own information space comprising of emails and documents is still hard to search the irony being that it is easier to find information out on the Internet than on our own hard disk! We do not have tools to search our space, but these are not integrated. There are also a large number of news sites like the New York Times and Wall Street Journal which have restricted access via subscription or registration that Google does not search.

    In its efforts to provide uniformity and consistency, Google has become a mass-market search utility which is a good starting point for becoming our other memory. But it is not enough. What is missing is the context that each of us have this is embedded in the web we browse, the documents we chose to save (or email to ourselves), and the subject-matter experts we know (or would like to know).

    First, let us survey the current state of the search industry.

    Tomorrow: From Yahoo

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    Business Week on WiFi

    BusinessWeek has a cover story on WiFi:

    After four years as a plaything for techno-geeks and home hobbyists, Wi-Fi is beginning to beam its way into Corporate America. Its superfast connections to the Web cost only a quarter as much as the gaggle of wires companies use today. And they’re proving irresistible to businesses willing to venture onto the wireless edge. From General Motors to United Parcel Service to CareGroup, companies are using Wi-Fi for mission-critical jobs in factories, trucks, stores, and even hospitals. “We firmly believe that this is the tipping point,” says Intel Corp. CEO Craig R. Barrett.

    The challenge facing the tech industry is to transform this unruly phenomenon into a global business. This means turning Wi-Fi Nation into Wi-Fi Inc. That involves transforming a riot of hit-or-miss hot spots into coherent, dependable networks. It means coming up with billing systems, roaming agreements, and technical standards — jobs the phone companies are busy tackling. The goal, says Anand Chandrasekher, vice-president and general manager of the mobile-platforms group at Intel, is to “take Wi-Fi from a wireless rogue activity to an industrial-strength solution that corporations can bet on.”

    Wi-Fi represents a disruptive force. Yet if history is an indicator, it will ultimately pay rich dividends. The upstart technology appears to follow a pattern that has become common in the Internet age. New technologies surge from the grass roots, pushing companies to race madly, trying first to cope with the new sensations and later to transform them into businesses. This happened with the Net itself, and with Linux, the free software operating system. Now, the Internet has not only defined an age, it has spawned a host of successful companies.

    Wi-Fi promises similar fireworks.

    A quote from an interview with Nicholas Negroponte: “Wi-Fi is like the Internet itself, reenacting the bottoms-up process that surprised people so much.”

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    Net PC

    A WSJ discussion has an interesting commment by a reader, Andy Limeri:

    I think you may be a bit early in predicting the demise of the Larry Ellison’s Net PC idea. I think he was just way ahead of the technology curve. I think easy to use, diskless PCs will become more popular as broadband becomes more ubiquitous. With all the problems introduced by buying new software and the need to upgrade, the basic idea of the net PC may very well find new life. I think this is particularly true for non-portable PCs as the PC is more likely to always be plugged into a network. I’ll bet that sometime in the next couple years, someone will introduce a subscription service that includes the equivalent of Microsoft Office, only the software is server-based and you never need to worry about an upgrade. It’s already happening in games and games are one of the better technological indicators.

    Thin Clients connected to Thick Servers is what we need in emerging markets – in homes, at the workplace and in rural TeleInfoCentres.

    WiFi in Iraq

    USA Today has an interesting story relevant for emerging markets. It talks about how WiFi could help Iraq leapfrog directly into the broadband area. “By using Wi-Fi, parts of Iraq could skip the build-out of traditional phone and cable networks altogether. The situation is similar to how cell phone technology enabled huge swaths of the Third World to avoid regular land-line phone systems.”

    The article also mentions briefly about the use of WiFi in remote places such as Bhutan and Mount Everest.