EcoTimes Quote

I was quoted in a story in The Economic Times on low-cost computing by Prabhakar Deshpande:

Rajesh Jain, managing director, Netcore Solutions, believes that there can be delightfully simple yet effective solution. Jain suggests that a thin client-thick server solution with all required software being run and installed only on a server can bring computing costs down by almost 70%. The thin client could be an old abandoned PC, or a specially configured PC from Via technologies. Thus the thin client would cost between Rs 7000 to Rs 10,000. A thick server hosting Linux OS and costing Rs 30,000 could be shared between 10 users thus amounting to an apportioned cost of Rs 3000 per person. Open source software freely available on the net could be configured on server for offering word processing, spreadsheet, browser, email and other facilities with a cost to each user of Rs 1000 – 2000. Thus every person in an enterprise could be offered a desktop for between Rs 11,000 to Rs 15,000.

Dell’s Influence

News.com says that Dell is the most influential PC company in the world:

No other company has done more to change the landscape of the hardware industry.

The real reason for Dell’s success is that the company follows a fundamental axiom: Don’t do anything stupid. It sounds like an easy motto to adopt, but few of us, in business or in private life, actually heed it.

Another simple rule Dell lives by: Nothing excites people like free stuff. So the company often includes extra memory or free handhelds with consumer PCs.

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Electronic Paper Billboards

NYTimes writes:

The surface of this billboard is not a liquid crystal diode screen – the energy-hungry display common to laptops and increasingly to cellphones, digital cameras, digital organizers and flat-screen computer monitors and television sets. Neither does this billboard share the light-emitting-diode technology that makes million-dollar-plus video screens light up the night in Times Square, Las Vegas and sports arenas around the world.

What makes the electronic billboard possible is an innovation by a New York-based display technology company whose name, Magink, is a combination of the words magic and ink. Its approach to imaging departs from the way most text, graphics and images are electronically presented, including the way expensive plasma screens work, as well as cathode-ray tubes, the old workhorses still found in most television sets and desktop computer monitors.

By creating a paste made of tiny helix-shaped particles that can be minutely manipulated with electric charges to reflect light in highly specific ways, Magink can produce surfaces that look like paper but behave like electronic screens, rendering high-resolution, full-color images without ink – or, as Magink executives like to refer to the process, with digital ink.

Ran Poliakine, chief executive of Magink, said the idea was to create visually compelling ads that could be replaced frequently – perhaps hourly, based on consumer response – and could be controlled remotely, all with far less energy and at a far lower cost than a video billboard.

Electronic paper and digital ink can have far-reaching implications for displays – think of it as a 10X Tsunami.

Screen Scraping for RSS

Phil Windley points to a post by Bill Humphries: “He’s using curl to get the page, tidy to clean up the HTML, and an XSL program to convert the result into RSS. Because the example he’s using is making good use of CSS, he can use XPATH to easily grab the right nodes in the HTML doc. Very different from the PERL screen scapers we were writing 4 years ago.” It would be good to do this for all the Indian newspapers – none that I know has its own RSS feed.

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Beyond Price Competition

Inc suggests that businesses should not try and compete on price alone, and provides a few alternatives:

Carve out a niche. If you “own” a market, you have more room to set prices. If there are 100 mechanics in your city, you’ll face constant price competition. But if you’re the only mechanic specializing in Volvos, you’ll face much less price pressure.

Work smarter, not cheaper. Let’s face it, a lot of your competition is just plain dumb. So, improve profits through innovative practices. Southwest Airlines, for instance, saved money by using plastic, re-usable boarding passes instead of paper passes, and they were the first to use electronic ticketing. Southwest maximizes profits from their planes by getting them back in the air an average of 20 minutes after landing, instead of the 2-3 hours of other airlines. By being smarter, Southwest became the most consistently profitable airline in the industry.

Focus on value, not price. Value is a term used to mean the combination of price and quality. When you shop for a winter coat, you may be willing to pay higher prices to get quality that will last many years. Likewise, a client may be willing to pay a higher price for your printing services if you can deliver the job faster with fewer errors than your competition. Excellence and service are competitive advantages that let you justify higher prices.

Target the right customers. Not all customers are willing to pay more even for better quality. So make certain you aim your marketing efforts at customers who will respond to the differences you offer and can pay a slightly higher price for that value.

Build loyalty to you, not your price. Even if you use special pricing (discounts, introductory offers, sales) to initially attract customers, immediately go to work developing a relationship that keeps customers coming back when the price goes up.

Some good advice there – we are too caught up on the “affordability” theme. Maybe we need to think a little beyond that.

Small Businesses and IT

Information Week writes about how “some small businesses are using an increasingly rich and surprisingly low-cost set of business-technology tools to survive and compete–tools that in the past were often available only to far-larger businesses.”

These small businesses seldom have big IT staffs, but they often have people at the top who are either technically adept or willing to employ new technology that advances the business. They’re geared to react to change and use the Internet, collaborative software, business intelligence, and cheap broadband communications. Most of all, they understand the Web and how it changes the rules of the game.

WhereWare

Technology Review writes about the importance of geolocation in the coming tech products: “hardware and software that track your location will be providing directions, offering shopping discounts, and aiding rescue workersservices that promise a windfall for ailing telecom carrier.”

Lock on to location-based computing, the hottest thing in wireless, which offers new services to customers and new revenue streams to carriers, and could save lives in the process. The idea is to make cell phones, personal digital assistants, and even fashion accessories capable of tracking their owners every movementwhether theyre outdoors, working on the 60th floor, or shopping in a basement arcade. Already, Japanese telecommunications company KDDI offers over 100 different location-based services using technology developed by wireless-equipment maker Qualcomm, from bracelets to let parents track their kids in the park, to cell phones that point the way to cheap noodle shops in Tokyos skyscraping Shinjyuku district. In Korea, two million citizens use their cell phones to locate nearby friends and, for example, find the most convenient coffee shops for impromptu meetings. In Europe, cell-phone networks can locate users and give them personalized directions to Big Ben, or the Eiffel Tower.

TECH TALK: The Death and Rebirth of Email: Solution Ideas (Part 3)

Legislation has been seen as one possible route to battle spam. However, that is not the solution, according to John Patrick: The legislation is well intentioned, spam is truly a huge problem, but it just won’t workThe answer is to enforce existing laws, utilize spam-fighting technology, and begin the process to re-design the way email works. Continues John:

Companies such as Cloudmark and Brightmail have technology that can enable the corporate mail servers to block spam or at least flag it as “probable spam” to allow employees to use a filter or rule to delete it automatically if they choose toCBS MarketWatch reported that PC Magazine has studied what you can do about spam. In a test of four “spam slammers,” CloudMark’s SpamNet ($4.99/month subscription) was top rated, followed by Matador 2.0 ($29.95/program), SpamCatcher ($19.95/program), and IHateSpam ($19.95/program), when ranked according to the percent of spam dumped into a quarantine folder. Each of the programs maintains a database of spammers and incorporates users’ feedback on what’s identified as spam to filter e-mails. “Keep in mind, though, that these products are far from perfect. They occasionally block messages they shouldn’t, and if you don’t regularly visit your quarantine, you’ll certainly miss a small percentage of important mail,” the magazine concluded. That has not been the case for me as I mentioned in the prior paragraph. The bottom line is that these spam fighting programs really work and I recommend everyone adopt one.

Long term, the way in which email works needs to be re-engineered. The Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) has formed a research group called the Anti-Spam Research Group (ASRG) to come up with creative and profound changes in the way email works at the core. The ASRG focuses on “the problem of unwanted email messages, loosely referred to as spam” and their premise is that an individual or organization should be able to “express consent or lack of consent for certain communication and have the architecture support those desires”. The ASRG plans to investigate the feasibility of a new architecture for email that “allows different systems to be plugged in to provide different pieces of the solution”.

I am sure the solution will include some form of authentication (as I have argued before). Once the real identity of an email sender is rendered explicit you have a lot more options for how to treat that email. (There are numerous other benefits from digital ID’s beyond reducing spam). I am optimistic about the long term fix but, needless to say, what is being undertaken here is enormously complex and it will take time. To get the protocol changes adopted as a global standard and then be globally implemented will take years.

Adds Ross Mayfield : Commercial spam will not be solved by regulation or filters, trusted email networks that use challenge-response to confirm ties could be an interim solution at best. The only solution is changing economic incentives. Occupational spam cannot be solved by opt-in or opt-out techniques Decentralizing authorship, readership, administration and moderation pushes costs to the edge. This is made possible from a base of standards. Web nativity, an optional structure and social filtering process keeps spam out of trusted personal networks.

Next Week: The Death and Rebirth of Email (continued)

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