Wireless Software Opportunity

News.com writes about the need for modularised building blocks for building mobile applications:

A restaurant finder–a location-based mobile product that some of the most important operators already offer–illustrates the problems. A subscriber requests a list of nearby eating places, perhaps by the Short Message Service (SMS) or the operators mobile Internet portal; the operator notes the hungry callers location and replies with a list of restaurants. An operator developing such a product starts by defining its characteristics: which countries and cities to include, whether to add more detail (such as opening hours and prices), how to deliver the information to the subscriber (SMS, the Multimedia Messaging Service, or the mobile Internet), and a pricing scheme, which could involve a fixed monthly sum, usage-based fees, or fees based on the data usage that requests generate.

Then programmers get to work creating the applications, databases and interfaces. This is an arduous process that involves thousands of hours of coding, and the longer the code takes to write, the costlier the development of the product and the more time needed to bring it to market.

The product also needs a restaurant database, perhaps licensed from local guides, because the richer the information, the happier the subscriber. Likewise, the user experience will be vastly improved if suggestions are tailored to individual wallets and tastes. Marketing executives would want the software developers to concentrate on improving the user experience; after all, the other main ingredients of the restaurant finder will just be support features also developed for earlier products such as customer profiles (is the subscriber a teenager most likely looking for fast food or a business traveler seeking a more up-market establishment?) and systems for locating and billing subscribers.

This is when the problems begin.

The supporting features, it turns out, arent readily available. Information about customers is almost certainly spread over a multitude of databases and applications. Programmers may be able to access it, but they will need time to understand the code and data structures of legacy applications, to create interfaces to legacy databases and to combine and match customer information from many different sources. Ultimately, the great majority of the 10 or 20 programmers in a team will focus not on creating a differentiating customer experience but rather on getting the basics right.

Moreover, the problems dont disappear with less-sophisticated products. A prepaid calling plan, for example, might seem to be straightforward. But a team that’s developing one will look in vain for readily available support functions such as customer information, credit checks and the ability to calculate the price of each call for billing purposes.

An opportunity for entrepreneuers?

Developmental Blogs

John Robb writes about the need for “a collaborate set of weblogs that address key problem areas for global development: water, food, energy, fabrication, eduction, communication, policital empowerment, environment, cooling/heating, and work. The key would be to ask the correct questions in each of these areas and focus on the identification of low cost enabling technologies that make the solutions possible (granted, technological solutions are my bias, but I am a tool-using animal).”

Excellent! We need to do this for two themes: affordable computing and transforming rural India.

Microsoft’s Affordable Pricing

News.com and Computerworld write about Gartner’s comments on Microsoft’s decision to price a Windows XP-Office combo for USD 40 as part of a low-cost PC program run by the Thai government. According to Gartner, “Microsoft may offer a similar package in China as an incentive to keep Chinese enterprises using its products.” You bet! I am surprised the Indian government hasn’t woken up yet.

PIMs and Information Clients

Roland Tanglao points to a survey of emerging Personal Information Managers software applications. “There is a new breed of PIMs emerging that I’m *very* excited about. They are all addressing, in different ways, that fact that email clients have been unspeakable abominations for the last few years. The email client paradigm was okay when it was the primary method of “net communication” and you got 10’s of messages a day. In the current world of InstantMessages, 100’s of emails and adhoc group forming …. they just don’t cut it. We need better Intelligent Agents.”

Gary Burd has a similar posting on what he terms “information clients”.

Products or Solutions

The McKinsey Quarterly has an interesting article which differentiates between the two, suggesting that “companies can earn higher margins or increased revenues by selling integrated offeringsif they dont merely bundle their products.”

Not every company has to sell solutionsmany successful businesses offer products, services, or bundles of either or bothbut companies intent on selling them must recognize that their economics, and thus their managerial imperatives, differ from those of product bundles. In the absence of such an understanding, vendors might invest in packaging a pseudosolution that competitors can disaggregate and bid against. The crucial first step is therefore to understand what a solution is and how it differs from products or bundles of products.

In the broadest sense, a solution is a combination of products and services that creates value beyond the sum of its parts. In practice, solutions are usually born when a vendor can meld a certain level of expertise with proprietary intellectual propertya method, a product, or an amalgam of the twoto handle a problem for a customer or to help it complete a step in its business. More specifically, it is the level of customization and integration that sets solutions above products or services or bundles of products and services. These two elementscustomization and integrationare more than just the glue that holds the package together: the way the elements are integrated and the extent of the customization define the added value for buyers and earn the added financial benefits for sellers.

TECH TALK: The Death and Rebirth of Email: Email Tales

BBC: The e-mail traffic generated by Sobig F is threatening to swamp some corporate networks that are already struggling to cope with the Welchi worm that scans for fresh hosts many times faster than last weeks MSBlast virus. Like the earlier versions of Sobig, the virus spreads by e-mail and by exploiting unsecured network links between Windows PCs.

New York Times: Sobig began appearing Tuesday, just a week after a separate virus, Blaster, wreaked havoc on computer systems across the world. A variant of the Blaster virus fouled signaling and dispatching systems at CSX Corp., on Wednesday, a day after similar troubles brought down Air Canadas check-in systems. Sobig does not physically damage computers, files or critical data, but it tied up computer and networking resources, forcing networks like the University of Wisconsin-Madison to shut down outside access to its e-mail system Wednesday.

Kevin Werbach in a post entitled The Day Email Died?: Between 10:45pm last night and 6am this morning, I received 1,470 pieces of spam (a run rate of nearly 5,000 per day). Most of them were from the SoBig worm, which seems to be the worst yet. And as far as I can tell, it’s still getting worseWe have to confront the reality: either email is broken, Microsoft’s email software is broken, or those two statements are the same. If it’s the middle statement, Microsoft and other vendors can close holes and improve filtering in their products. Email itself isn’t going to change. It’s too widely deployed. I still think a combination of steps will tame the spam epidemic, but we’re not there yet.

Dave Winer in a series of posts over successive days: This morning 650 messages accumulated overnight, and my email program, Outlook Express, one which millions of people use, can’t download them without crapping outOver 800 messages accumulated in my mailbox, and my mailer is incapable of dealing with it. So if you sent me mail, I probably won’t get it until tomorrow afternoonOver 2000 messages are waiting. Perhaps its time to give up on the mail client software I’ve been usingEmail is still broken. I’m trying Eudora, it seems to work a little better than Outlook Express, but of course it’s totally strange and all my filters are goneIn the meantime I’m missing boatloads of email.

Microdoc: The way we have developed the Internet is creating the biggest economic, social and cultural time-bomb of the century. We have become dependent on email, Microsoft and now Google, none of us realizing that, through widespread public support of highly popular solutions we are actually creating opportunities for what we have built to be torn down. The problem with email is that every email client works much the same way regardless of who constructed it, that widespread damage can be done by relatively few to so many. Because we have a world where software is made by Microsoft, and it works relatively the same the world over, we have created huge gaping holes for people in any society of the world to bring down the masses. To allow the Internet to survive, we need to embrace diversity, to make it near impossible for a single worm to create havoc the world over.

Dan Gillmor: What will come from this crisis? I think we may be on the verge of the next transformation — from e-mail to other kinds of communications that will make life harder (but, sadly, not impossible) for the spammers and vandals who prey on the Net’s openness. You want to reach me? Unfortunately it’s getting more difficult unless I’ve given you a private e-mail address, my instant messaging signon or my mobile phone numberNo doubt, if another OS had 95 percent (or more) market share, there would be some of the same problems. Two points: First, Microsoft has flat-out refused to use its illegally gained profits sufficiently to stop this. Second, Windows is a monoculture. Ask any biologist about monocultures, and you’ll be told of the extreme danger they represent. The U.S. government’s willingness — eagerness — to help Microsoft keep and extend its monopoly is part of the dangerThis can’t go on. The next worm or virus may be a real disaster, not just an enormous pain in the butt. It’s a matter of time.

You get the idea!

Tomorrow: Solution Ideas

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