Desktops for Information Workers

Internet Week quotes Jeff Raikes of Microsoft on desktops:

Microsoft Office System 2003 will crush forthcoming Linux desktop offerings from Sun Microsystems and Red Hat by serving as an XML-enabled front end to back-end systems and integrating collaboration features, , one key executive predicts.

Jeff Raikes, group vice president of Microsoft’s Productivity and Business Services, said the integration of collaboration, communications and XML support into the Office 2003 suite will offer a far greater business value than what the open-source competition can deliver.

“Office is becoming integrated into business processes,” Raikes said. “CIOs are under pressure to do more with less. It’s an opportunity to bring the integration into the organization.”

Further, the integration of Outlook 2003, Exchange 2003, InfoPath XML e-forms, OneNote digital-ink applications, CRM and Microsoft Business Solutions applications with Office 2003 will add compelling value that forthcoming corporate Linux desktops from Sun and Red Hat simply can’t deliver, Raikes said.

The article also quotes Sun’s marketing director on its Mad Hatter offering: “Today people are paying Microsoft Office license upgrades north of $300 and $500, and we can come out with an acquisition cost that’s considerably less–a savings of two times to four times over the life cycle. Mad Hatter comes with integration and development tools. Customers want a client front-end and back-end infrastrucure and, as such, Mad Hatter will provide connectors into the Sun Orion software stack back end, as well as mainstream solutions. A lot of this stuff has to be out-of-the-box.”

Neither of the two solutions are good enough (affordable) for emerging markets. What is needed is a thin client-thick server solution, based on Linux for no more than USD 15 per user.

10,000 Blogs

Michael Buffington writes:

If I have thousands of blog entries at my finger tips I can do some pretty amazing things. I can make relationships with the entries, I can categorize them, I can search against them, I can find new content very easily. By having thousands of available weblogs I would at least be able to find the small percentage of weblogs I’m interested in.

So basically what I want is a relational database snapshot of the entire blogoshere. I want a data warehouse that I can perform not only statistical analysis on, but make intelligent relationships between blog entries. I want to be able to see trends appear, spot memes as they’re happening. I want a stock ticker that tells me the common theme for the day.

Something to aim for with BlogStreet.

Text Summarisation

I have been looking for a long time for some good text summarisers. Looks like we may be getting there soon. Ted Leung writes:

The posts about text summarization have stirred up some good activity. Kellan Elliott-McCrea has done a nice comparison of the Mac OS X summarizer, libots, and Classifier4J. Among his discoveries: there is no system API to the Mac OS X summarizer. Surely this is a sick joke. One of the supposedly wonderful things about closed source, Objective-C based, heaven on earth, Cocoa nee NeXTSTEP was the ability to provide system wide services in a cool way. Boo.

Eager to get a better comparison, Nick Lothian the author of Classifier4J has put up a web app so that people can test the quality of Classifier4J’s summaries.

For a long time I’ve wanted a text summarizer that I could use as a system service. It looks like there’s some healthy incentive for the authors of these three systems to keep improving them. Information distillation, here we come.

RedPaper = NYTimes + eBay

Wired News has a story on an interesting new publication called RedPaper.

Backed by software giant Adobe Systems, the RedPaper is an experimental market for information, allowing anyone to publish and sell their writing, be it recipes for muffins or hard-to-get court documents.

The site has about 600 registered users, who have published several hundred articles on the site, including favorite drink recipes, car maintenance instructions, poetry and short fiction.

The RedPaper has set up a micropayment system to pay contributors. The authors set the price for their work, anywhere from $0.02 on up. The author receives 94.75 percent of monies; the RedPaper takes a 5.25 percent cut. When registering with the site, new users deposit $3 in an account, which is used to buy articles.

Professor Richard Gordon of the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University said the site is an interesting manifestation of several new media trends — weblogging, self-publishing and attempts to create markets for digital content.

“I’ve no idea how successful it is likely to be, but it may allow writers to develop a readership and reputation without the backing of a publication,” he said. “It’s like freelancing on steroids.”

Web Traffic Analytics

Viswanath Gondi points to an article on Web Traffic Analytics and User Experience, which provides “a step by step process of analyzing website logs. The important points are, convert numbers to percentages, its easier to compare. Use a spread sheet to derive metrics and comparison graphs. The analysis helps in caliculating the return on investment on the design. Software like Webtrends, IBM Surfaid, Omniture SiteCatalyst help in doing the analysis by providing useful derived metrics.”

More on Rich Web Clients

Building on his previous comments, Adam Bosworth elaborates:

When I say “Rich Client” from now on, I don’t mean a VB look and feel let alone a Flash look and feel. Macromedia and the inimitable Kevin Lynch do that really well (a lot better than Microsoft) and I’ll just stipulate that this can be the right thing. What I’m more interested in though is something that has the authoring simplicity and model of pages. If you can build HTML, you should be able to build this. You should be able to use your editor of choice. Indeed, as much as possible, this should be HTML. I mean 3 things:
1) The user can quickly and easily navigate through information in ways that the site providing the information didn’t expect
2) The user can run offline as well as online
3) If information changes and the user is connected, then the changes can be “pushed” into the UI if so desired

When I talk to customers about why on earth they are still using Java Applets or VB to build user interface, frequently the reasons are because they can’t do these three things otherwise.

Similarly, when I say “Web Services” I don’t mean that all of the SOAP crap is required. I mean that a service exposes some way to send/receive XML messages to/from it. REST is fine if it works (more on REST in another entry).

So, to summarize, a Web Services Browser is a browser that can access information published as XML messages by services, let the user interact in a rich and graceful way with this information or these services, but can run well in terms of interaction whether the user is online or offline.

Let me give an example. Suppose I’m managing a project and I want to be able to review the project status while I’m on the road. I want to be able to sort by task priority, or employee or amount the task is late. I want to be able to update priorities, add comments, add tasks, and so on. If I am online, say at Starbucks or the airport or Hotel, then I want to be as up to date as possible and I want all the changes I’ve made offline to percolate back to the project. If i’m online and information changes in the service, I want to see the changes immediately flow into the page I’m viewing if they’re relevant to it so that if, for example, I’ve viewing a summary dashboard style page and some tasks get updated I can see at a glance that the have changed. If I switch machines to my mobile PDA or just connect in through someone else’s computer or an Internet kiosk, I still want to see/update the information of course.

All this I want the authoring model to be more or less what I know. That’s the vision.

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TECH TALK: Transforming Rural India 2: TeleInfoCentre and RISC

A TeleInfoCentre (TIC) is present at the village-level, and can have between 3 and 10 computers. All the content and applications required is available at the TIC. It is not necessarily dependent on real-time connectivity for providing services. A TIC is entrepreneur-driven.

The TIC fulfills a multi-centric role: it is a computing and communications centre, has a digital library of documents, complements the teachers for school and adult education, and serves as a small business office for entrepreneurs. Its additional value comes from applications that it can enable for citizen services and government interactions, making it an eGovernance touch-point for the villagers.

As far as possible, the TIC should be able to work in the offline mode that is, its dependence on Internet connectivity should be minimal. The server should mirror key applications and relevant data, making it possible for the clients to work without the need for an Internet connection. In fact, even the assumption that a TIC may have a few hours of Internet connectivity daily could be far-fetched. This makes the application development challenging, but it becomes an important pre-requisite given the realities of Rural India.

The offline mode entails updating through CD (or an alternate such device like a USB Memory Key). A CD will get written daily at the village TIC which has the days emails and requests which cannot be served locally. This CD would then be sent by courier or through the postal system to the next level in the hierarchy, which is likely to have better Net connectivity. Similarly, a CD from there would bring updates to the village. Over time, WiFi will solve the network connectivity bottleneck.

Here are the costs (in Rs) for a 3-computer TIC (TIC-3) and a 10-computer TIC (TIC-10):

Cost Items                            TIC-3       TIC-10
Thin Clients at Rs 5,000 per system  15,000       50,000
1 Thick Server                       25,000       30,000
Software and Curriculum               5,000       10,000
Networking, Modem, Phone Line        10,000       15,000
Printer, Scanner, Webcam, Speakers   10,000       15,000
Power Supply                         15,000       30,000
Total Capital Costs                  80,000      150,000
Monthly Running Costs                 4,000        8,000
Teacher Costs                         3,000        6,000
Capital Cost EMI (at 12% for 5 years) 1,780        3,337
AMC (10% of capital costs, monthly)     667        1,250
Total Monthly Cost                    9,447       18,587

Rural Infrastructure & Services Commons

RISC is a much larger set-up, serving a cluster of about 100 villages in a bicycle commutable radius of 10-15 kilometres. In India, a RISC would thus service about 100,000 people. Each RISC serves as a local business center where the downstream flow of information and material to the villages is complemented by an upstream flow of goods and services from the local village economy to markets that are global.

A RISC center:

  • clusters economic activities in specific rural locations by facilitating firms’ businesses
  • provides a standardized reliable infrastructure platform in an economically efficient way
  • co-locates a wide variety of services provided by market forces on the platform
  • provides services on a for-profit basis
  • serves as a focal point for the bi-directional flow of information and materials within the rural areas
  • coordinates the investments of the private sector, the public sector, and multilateral organizations into rural India
  • uses the tools provided by advances in information and communications technologies

    Essentially a RISC is a micro-city, an appropriately scaled down version of a city. It acts as a focal point that provides a bi-directional flow of information and materials that are essential to the rural economy and which uses state of the art tools and technologies to do so efficiently. It can be conceived of as a holographic projection of a city on a small scale at the rural location.

    By using elements from the 5KPC ecosystem, it becomes possible to create an affordable technology infrastructure at the RISC, which can be leveraged by the service providers.

    We will now look at how ICT tools and platforms like the TIC and RISC can transform education and market access in rural areas.

    Next Week: Transforming Rural India 2 (continued)

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