Enterprise Software in China

WSJ reports that SAP and Oracle are taking big steps to sell to the mid-sized enterprises in China, “moving into direct competition with local developers that offer business software at lower prices.”

The two giant companies have modified their complex suites of business applications to make them less expensive and easier to implement in the Chinese market. To save costs, both are signing up distributors to sell the products rather than relying on their own sales forces.

Their actions come as two of China’s largest software companies, Kingdee International Software Group and UFSoft Co., have started to sell more-sophisticated enterprise-management programs, moving up from their base in accounting products.

But the moves also reflect the fact that China’s demand for basic business software is larger than for broader, multifunction suites. Chinese businesses purchased $142 million of accounting software last year, compared with $85.5 million of more complex, enterprise-wide products, according to International Data Corp., a market-research firm.

“Brand recognition, price and delivery capability will combine to determine whether their execution will be good enough to compete with the local vendors,” said Louisa Liu, a software-market analyst in Shanghai for Gartner Inc., a market research and consulting firm.

SAP is starting its software at prices under USD 10,000. I think India is already beginning to see these price reductions also – only that the local companies aren’t as well established as their counterparts in China.

Taking on Pepsi and Coke

It is not often that the small guys win. So, it was interesting to read this story in The Wall Street Journal about how Peru’s Kola Real is taking up on the big guys in Latin America:

Kola Real is emerging as an unlikely threat to both Coca-Cola Co. and PepsiCo Inc. in a region where the two soft-drink giants enjoy some of their fattest global profit margins. By cutting out frills and skimping in areas such as advertising, Kola Real, officially called Industrias Ananos, offers ultra-low prices that appeal to the region’s poor majority. As a result, the company has captured almost one-fifth of the Peruvian market and has made inroads into Ecuador and Venezuela.

Now Kola Real (pronounced RAY-AL) is shaking things up in Mexico. Mexico is a crown jewel in Coke’s international operations and the world’s second-biggest soft-drink market after the U.S., with annual sales of roughly $15 billion. In less than two years, the Mexican version of Kola Real, called “Big Cola,” has captured roughly 4% of the market. Coke and Pepsi have cut prices in response, denting their profits. At the Sam’s Club warehouse store in Mexico City’s upscale Polanco neighborhood, Big Cola is the fifth-best-selling product, narrowly trailing Coke.

Kola Real has put a new twist on globalization. As trade barriers have dropped in much of the developing world, foreign-owned behemoths such as Wal-Mart Stores Inc. have squeezed local incumbents unaccustomed to competition and raised local people’s price sensitivity. The Ananos family has turned the tables on two U.S. giants by undercutting their prices and adapting their aggressive marketing tactics to local conditions.

Kola Real’s strategy is simple: offer big sizes at low prices. In a Carrefour supermarket in Mexico City, a large display of Big Cola beckons shoppers with a price of about 75 cents for a 2.6-liter bottle. Nearby, bottles of Coke go for about $1.30 for a slightly smaller 2.5-liter bottle. On a recent day, housewife Lourdes Avila put four of the Big Cola bottles in her cart and said: “For that price, I’ll try it.”

To keep prices low, the Ananos family runs a lean operation. While Coke and Pepsi bottlers spend nearly 20% of their revenue on beverage concentrate from Atlanta-based Coke and PepsiCo, Purchase, N.Y., the Ananoses make their own. Instead of maintaining a fleet of trucks as most Coke and Pepsi bottlers do, Kola Real hires third parties for deliveries — even individuals with dented pick-up trucks. The company also does little advertising beyond an occasional radio spot, relying on word-of-mouth from penny-pinching housewives.

Some lessons for Linux companies in their battle against Microsoft, perhaps…?

The Next Hurdle for Indian IT

The McKinsey Quarterly has an interview with Narayana Murthy of Infosys. Some excerpts:

Its not easy for the multinationals to create a workforce equal to ours in a country like India. The multinationals have to compete here for the talent and then train the people. There are many processes that have to be built up over a period of time to do that effectively. And of course, just having talented employees trained to deliver services is not enough. We have developed tools, methodologies, processes, and the management expertise for providing services to clients across geographic distances. We develop software in a geographically distributed way, in collaboration with customers. Our approach takes advantage of the 24-hour workday. Its not just a question of renting a building and hiring a few people and then saying to customers, “The shop is open.” So for now, our primary competitors will continue to be India-based companies, such as Tata Consultancy Services and Wipro.

Infosys was the first company to articulate the concept of a global delivery model. In this model, we partition a large-scale software-development project into two categories of tasks. The first includes those that must be done close to the customer. The second consists of tasks that can be done remotely in talent-rich, scalable, process-driven, technology-enabled development centers located in cost-competitive countries like India…The first category of activitiesthe ones that must be done close to the customerinvolves defining the project with the client and helping the client to install and use the software once it is developed. These activities include business consulting, IT consulting, defining requirements, installing the software, training the customer to use it, and rapid-reaction maintenance services. The second category of activitiesthe ones done in our development centers in Indiaconsists of technology tasks done most cost-effectively in remote locations. They include detailed function-design tasks, detailed technical design, database design, programming, testing, creating documentation, and long-term maintenance services.

Our biggest challenge is to become proactive problem definers rather than be reactive problem solvers. Right now, we solve problems our customers define. We need to be able to go to customers and say, “These are the problems we believe you will face, and here are some solutions.” Our focus is on providing solutions leveraging IT. We need to help shape the design of the technology solutions and then implement those solutions. This is the biggest challenge we facetheres no doubt about that.

The second challenge is to become more and more and more multicultural. Employees of 38 nationalities work for Infosys. We have efforts under way to integrate people across various cultures. For instance, on large deals we make sure that people from different parts of the world contribute, on a collaborative basis, to prepare a proposal, to defend the proposal, and to execute the proposal.

the third challenge is to continue to retain the soul of a small organization in the body of a large organization. We now have more than 19,000 employees worldwide. It will be tricky to balance the tension between scaling the organization as quickly as we have been doing against the need to maintain disciplined processes as well as an integrated multicultural organization.

MIT’s iCampus

News.com writes about the creative use of web services to improve quality of student life:

A Web service can help you catch a bus. Or test an electronic circuit from a dorm room. Or even take English writing tests in a new way.

These creative uses of Web servicesa method for connecting software systems over the Internetat the Massachusetts Institute of Technology stand in stark contrast to the more mundane, workaday uses of Web services at corporations. But these applications suggest that Web services may be an important link in realizing the vision of broad access to information originally promised by the Web browser.

iCampus is a 5-year, USD 25 million project funded by Microsoft. A related story in NYTimes looks at the Libraries Access to Music Project, to provide music from some 3,500 CD’s through a novel source: the university’s cable television network.

This kind of collabarive effort to test out new technologies is something which Indian IT companies and educational institutions should definitely look at.

Contextual Collaboration

Robin Good writes about “the future of real-time conferencing”:

When I talk about contextual collaboration I intend to describe the concept of online collaboration in which real-time features are a built-in components of a standard application and where no one has to leave his production tool in order to share, send or collaborate with others at-a-distance.

Some of the typical components of Contextual Collaboration are:

a) Presence awareness – this is normally confused with instant messaging. Presence awareness is indeed a specific functionality of typical instant messaging clients allowing and making possible the actual instant messaging functionality. The ability to “see” and be able to reach out to direct contacts, friends and team-mates is in my opinion at the very core of online collaboration.

b) Conversation – this is the ability to talk, exchange and discuss as smoothly and transparently as possible. VoIP is the preferred route. Text chat can be an alternative. Asynchronous discussion threads a further road nearby.

c) Object sharing – to collaborate we need to be able to share and exchange document, tools, information. The ability to share any of these with ease and immediacy is of essence to the task of effectively replicating our long-formed expectations for working together.

d) Shared workspaces – we don’t collaborate suspended in the air. Like in physical space we normally need a bare minimum of a facility to carry out our work. A minimum of a desk, a set of archival drawers, writing and editing tools and whatever we feel needed for the type of collaboration at hand. A collaborative space is the necessary environment to carry out work with the needed basic support facilities.

Indeed, as only few real-time collaboration companies seem to have understood so far, instant messaging may be the very best pivot point around which to build effective collaboration and meeting opportunities.

How Startups Evolve

NYTimes writes about Silicon Valley companies have “renewed” themselves as the It environment has changed around them. The article describes the experiences of four companies: Tellme, InterTrust, VMware and Scalix. “Companies across Silicon Valley tell similar stories. The marketing plan, business model and sometimes the company itself die, but good technology tends to live on. Think of it as the business-and-technology equivalent of the ‘selfish gene,’ a term coined by the evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins, who argues that the gene rather than the larger organism is the fundamental unit of survival.”

Social Networking Software

VentureBlog writes about “software that lets you connect to people and opportunities via your network of friends, colleagues, business relationships, etc.”, and briefly discusses Friendster (online dating), LinkedIn (professional networking), Tribe.Net (classifieds).

The opportunity: “The area I am most interested in is applying social networking software to enterprises. I like it for two reasons. First, there are a bunch of important enterprise applications that can be vastly improved with social networking software. Examples are sales force automation, customer relationship management, and human resources software. There are probably a bunch more. That sounds like a good market to me. And the second reason is that i think a tightly controlled social network may have more utility to its users. You can apply privacy, trust, rules, and controls on an enterprise network that you can’t apply to a public network. And that means that the participants in the network will be willing to share more of their knowledge and relationships without worrying about what bad stuff could happen. I think that leads to more utility and more usage.” Two companies in this space: Spoke Software and Visible Path.

Always On had an article by Paul Reddy of Spoke Software recently, who wrote about how it is building its software:

Software should provide compelling value to the user. If you enable users to do their jobs better, value will flow to the enterprise.

Software should generate value quickly. Sales people, in particular, have short attention spans. Amaze them in ten minutes, and theyll come back.

Dont ask the user to create more data. Ask the system to discover information for the user.

Give people control and choice. Privacy, in the end, is about control.

Make the user your friend. Use the Web to expose users to your products and help them bring it in under the radar, instead of by decree.

TECH TALK: SMEs and Technology: Information Management Architecture (Part 2)

The Personal Knowledge Manager (PKM) is a sort of Memex, a memory extension, as envisioned by Vannevar Bush. This tool helps users to build and manage their personal knowledge base. It is an individuals views of the world, formed by the users associations. The basic goal of the PKM is to retain and return stored information. At its simplest, it is a directory-cum-outliner, constructed using the OPML (Outline Processor Markup Language), which can allow for transclusion (in-place viewing) of similar, other Memex constructs.

The Group Knowledge Manager (GKM) captures and amplifies knowledge across teams. It is a collaboration platform. The GKM belongs to a category of software that is growing in importance of late social software. The goal of social software is help groups work better. Every organization small or big has many groups some are formally set up (for example, marketing, engineering) while others can be informal (for example, organised by communities of practice). The objective of the GKM is to help these groups store and manage information that is of relevance for all of them. The only tool available today is email, and that does not work effectively across groups. Weblogs and Wikis can serve as the foundation for creating GKMs.

The Digital Dashboard provides an integrated view of all the information that a user would like to see on s single screen. Think of the Dashboard as having three areas a scratchpad writing area for making quite notes, a events viewer which shows a filtered view from all the event streams that the user has subscribed to, and a links area, which has shortcuts to various applications and recently used documents. In addition, there is a search box, with three options to search the users own information space on the server, search the users writings on various blogs (public, group and private) and search Google.

The Microcontent Client provides real-time event updates to the user. This client will typically be part of a users smartphone. It will connect to the users IMAP mailboxes that which gets the email, and the other created by the Info Aggregator. Taken together, they provide the user with the complete view of the personal, enterprise and external worlds. In addition, the microcontent client should also have the ability to accept content (text or multimedia) which can be posted on to a blog specified by the user. The new generation of cellphones already have cameras in-built. With better keyboards, they will become full-fledged two-way mobile multimedia centres.

Thus, these set of seven applications make up the information refinery. It will be possible to manage any kind of information text, image, audio or video through this pipeline. This is the platform that the small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) need to manage the information that they come across and create. In the past, these systems have been expensive or hard to put together. Now, the components and standards for putting these systems in place already exist. This is the foundation of the Active (Publish-Subscribe) Web.

Tomorrow: Business Applications Architecture

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On Wikis

Excerpts from an interview with Ward Cunningham, the Wiki’s creator:

I had…general goals for wiki. First, I think there’s a compelling nature about talking. People like to talk. In creating wiki, I wanted to stroke that story-telling nature in all of us. Second, and perhaps most important, I wanted people who wouldn’t normally author to find it comfortable authoring, so that there stood a chance of us discovering the structure of what they had to say.

Someone not familiar with authoring may have an idea, and the idea is a paragraph’s worth of idea. They would write an editorial for a magazine, except a paragraph is too small. To write for a magazine, they would have to establish the context, say something important, say it in a way that a wide variety of people can understand it, and then bring it to a close. That’s more than most people want to invest…But if you’re reading somebody else’s work, and you think, “Yeah, but there’s another point,” being able to drop in a paragraph that says, “Well, yeah, but there’s actually this.” There’s an awful lot of counterpoint, the “Yeah, but…” kind of thought, on wiki. Discussion groups do the same thing, but with discussion groups it all gets lost.

A wiki works best where you’re trying to answer a question that you can’t easily pose, where there’s not a natural structure that’s known in advance to what you need to know.

Wiki pages are very much free form. Across the whole wiki there is a hypertext structure, but on a given page, within the versatility of your command of your natural language, you can say whatever needs to be said. So wikis are a good way to track project status.

In addition, wikis work best in environments where you’re comfortable delegating control to the users of the system. There isn’t a lot of logic in wiki about who can do what when, because wiki doesn’t really understand what you’re doing. It’s just holding pages for you.

What you get as a wiki reader is access to people who had no voice before. The people to whom we are giving voice have a lot of instinct about what it’s like to write, and ship, a computer program. Our industry honors certain traditions in its publications. If you want to contribute to a scientific journal, for example, you should be peer reviewed. Part of peer review is that you’re familiar with all the other literature. And the other literature somehow that spiraled off into irrelevance. What was being written about programming didn’t match what practicing programmers felt. With wiki, practicing programmers who don’t have time to master the literature and get a column in a journal that’s going to be read have a place where they could say things that are important to them. The wiki provides a different view. In fact you can tell when someone is writing on wiki from their personal experience versus when they are quoting what they last read.

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Microsoft@Home

Barron’s writes:

The most powerful version of Windows that you can buy today isn’t Windows XP Professional. It’s Windows XP Media Center Edition 2004, an XP superset introduced by Microsoft at the end of September. Media Center turns the PC into a living room gadget that you control with a wireless remote. It downloads music and saves the television shows that you pick from an onscreen schedule, like TiVO’s well-known digital recorder. It connects to a computer monitor and a TV screen. But like every computer, the Media Center system still runs PC games and does your taxes. The operative word, at the September 30 product introduction, was “convergence.”

This time around, the software giant is talking about challenging broadcasters and cable firms as the gateways to home-entertainment audiences. That’s because the new edition of Media Center integrates entertainment purveyors — like the relaunched Napster music network, and the Internet movie services Movielink and CinemaNow. Movielink is owned by five Hollywood studios, while CinemaNow is run by the film distributor Lions Gate Entertainment. “The media companies really didn’t have any way to do new audiovideo programming other than, perhaps, create a new cable TV channel,” said Microsoft’s platforms boss Jim Allchin, at the product launch. “As the first truly open entertainment platform, Media Center changes everything. Whether you’re a small independent label or a large conglomerate, you now have a direct path into the home that you didn’t have before.”

Leaning back with a remote control, Media Center users can burn music onto discs or watch over 1,000 movies on demand without subscribing to Time Warner’s HBO and without enduring any commercials. Advertising-sponsored television and radio now has another cause for worry, in addition to commercial-zapping recorders like TiVo and the new digital recorder-equipped cable settop boxes. Allchin said that 100 entertainment firms were cooking up Media Center service offerings.

This year, a new crop of these goodtime PCs will appear with prices in the $700 range — thanks to the trickle down of mighty processing power into low-end chips from the likes of Intel, Advanced Micro Devices and ATI Technologies.

The living room PC comes at a time when homes increasingly have wireless Wi-Fi links to connect gadgets to each other, and to the Internet. This could be big.

Visualising Information

Phil Wolff points to DiceLared – the site seems to be in Spanish, but the graphics are cool! Adds Phil:

DiceLaRed creatively blends news crawling + lexical analysis + data mining + data visualization + customization + alerting.

Apply this to your customers’ weblogs, your industry magazines, and local newspapers for an environmental scan.

Apply this to job board postings. Understand labor market demand across the usual dimensions. Then stretch to discover new buzzwords and “terms of art”. Can you say competitive analysis? How about strategic recruiting?

Apply this to medical discussion boards. Look for spikes in conversation about symptoms to detect outbreaks and public health problems. Look for swings in interest to retarget investment in health education and social programs.

Apply this to your citizenry, to understand what political issues are emerging in importance, and with whom, in real time.

We are much closer to a dashboard that helps us understand and respond, sooner and with more precision.

Good informaiton visualisation tools can make such a difference – and yet we so little of them.

Digital ID World

ZDNet has an article by Dan Farber on the recent Digital ID World conference.

Federated identity management, which supports multiple entities connected within a circle of trust, is one of the major initiatives growing out of Web services that will provide substantial benefits to corporations and consumers.

On the current horizon, SAML is in the lead and gaining momentum with lots of early adoption, said Jamie Lewis, president and research chair of the Burton Group. SAML, an XML-based framework for exchanging security information, is core to the Liberty Alliance effort, and the WS-* group has pledged to support it in its Web services specifications. Microsoft announced that it would support SAML tokens, and IBM is shipping SAML as part of its solution.

The most interesting and promising development I encountered at Digital ID World was Ping Identity. The 12-person company, led by CEO Andre Durand, offers SourceID an open source platform for deploying federated single sign-on or enabling federated identity applications.

Always On adds:

Doc Searls rapped it out thusly: the world is being turned upside down with the notion of one’s Digital Identity.

At the core of everything is MyIdentity – the individual’s profile and behavior data which before has been thought of as “account information”. The next level out in Doc’s world view is OurIdentity, where one’s relationship to others actually takes on importance – as well. It’s those relationships and the importance of the individual which makes the world a different place.

On the outside looking in is the status quo – TheirIdentity. This status quo actually believes that they own their membership databases. That all those names (and the clicks associated with them) are their companies family jewels, their base I.P. assets. The BigCos, government, power mongers and power elite who think they control membership databases, individuals and that worst of all phrases – consumers – are about to see the ground shift underneath them.

Phil Windley has more reports [1 2].

I wrote about identity management recently.

Learnings from Jack Welch

Excerpts from a talk by Fast Company’s editor in chief, John Byrne, who also worked with Jack Welch on his book “Jack: Straight from the Gut”:

Fast Company believes that work is the ultimate expression of who we are. Work is not a 9-5 pursuit. It should be an extension of us. Leadership should be inspirational and not dogmatic. Organizations should be meritocracies.

During my 1,000 hours with [Jack Welch], here’s the person I saw and what I learned about leadership. I learned that you cannot be successful in life if you do not have an extraordinary focus on people. You can not create anything that will endure without the support of people who work on your behalf to get things done. How do you focus on people in a way that clears the crap out? Here’s what I saw in Welch. I saw a teacher, a mentor, and a relentlessly demanding boss. I saw a man who could just as easily praise you, hug you, and kiss you on the cheek — and just as easily tell you you were full of shit without any problem. I saw a person who spent 60% of his time with the people in his organization, another 30% on his customers, and another 10% on the crap you have to deal with when you lead anything.

The other thing I saw about Jack that was remarkable was passion. I love passion. I’m glad I work for a magazine about people who have passion. I hate people who don’t care. And that’s what Jack was all about: Passion. You could walk into a room and feel the energy. Passion was what Jack Welch is all about. It’s why two months before retirement he’s looking at refrigerator ads. It’s why every Friday he replies to an email memo. It’s why he took the afternoon to teach a leadership class every month for 20 years.

Another thing I saw with Jack was a terrific ability to communicate. He was able to take complex ideas and communicate them in simple ways through an entire organization. We’re going to be #1 or 2 in a market. If we’re not #1 or 2, we’re going to fix it or close it. Simple as that. Simple, clear, perfect. That’s what strategy should be.

Chandler and the New Desktop

Technology Review (via WSJ) writes about Mitch “Chandler” Kapor’s “new, more intuitive computer interface puts all the information we need to manage our digital lives at our fingertips, no matter what form it’s in”:

the software promises to put all related e-mail messages, spreadsheets, appointment records, addresses, blog entries, word-processing documents, digital photos, and what-have-you in one place at one time: no more opening program after program looking for the items related to a specific topic. It takes the core functions of Microsoft Outlook, the Palm Desktop, and other personal information management programs and integrates them with the rest of your PC and the Internet. All the information you need to complete a given task or project is grouped on-screen, organized around the one function — e-mail — Mr. Kapor sees as the central conduit of our electronic lives.

Because Chandler presents information in its logical context — displaying all related items together — and not in the separate folders and application windows of the traditional desktop computer system, you can think of it as a new way into your computer.

At stake is a new, more intuitive way of handling information that could be as revolutionary as the replacement of the text-based, command-line interfaces of the earliest personal computers with graphical computer desktops.

The “to-do” screen, for example, could be a context, with e-mail mixed in with related task items. So if you’re planning a party, Chandler might put a calendar with key dates on it (when to pick up a cake, say), the invitation form, RSVPs, a task list, and even a budget on-screen at once. When a guest’s e-mail request for veggie hors d’oeuvres arrives, arranging for them would automatically be added to your to-do list. Contexts will mean Chandler can reorganize the screen every time the user shifts between projects, as if she were replacing her desk with a new one. That’s a far cry from today’s software, which forces people to dig through applications and file folders to find things, and to print them out if they want to see everything in one place.

Driving some of Chandler’s flexibility will be a technology with a checkered past: software agents. These are small pieces of code typically designed to perform individual tasks, such as beeping when an e-mail message arrives.

Definitely something to watch. What makes it even more attractive is that Chandler is open-source.

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Making Mobile Data Pay

Booz Allen Hamilton’s Strategy+Business writes:

We believe the next big opportunity is in mobile data the digital sounds, pictures, videos, games, and text messages fancied by a burgeoning population of consumers who view their mobile devices as much more than a telephone. Indeed, launching mobile data services to capitalize on the expanding broadband infrastructure is the biggest new business opportunity for the wireless telecom industry since its inception more than a decade ago.

One alternative is to adopt a low-cost, low-risk, lower-growth connectivity model with the objective of increasing the volume of data transmitted over the companys wireless network. Here, the mobile operator focuses on growing traffic, but misses out on opportunities to capture value from the content carried over its network…For [the mobile telecom companies], a higher-cost, higher-risk but higher-value integrated service model makes more sense. With this approach, mobile operators dont simply provide a connection, they position themselves to directly influence and profit from the customers total wireless experience.

In the integrated model, pricing is determined on the basis of the value of content rather than the volume of data transmitted; wireless operators play a much bigger role in packaging, promoting, and selling the content, subscriptions, and services offered by content companies. Operators also work much more closely with handset manufacturers than they have in the past to develop unique new devices designed for the multimedia experience, which can serve to enhance both partners brands. Such partnerships will be crucial to the mobile operators ability to expand revenue streams, grow market share, and make customer relationships more valuable.

Through partnerships, wireless telecom operators can achieve two objectives that improve the customer experience and increase the financial rewards for companies create an integrated service environment and influence handset design.

One company doing work in the mobile data space is Aeroprise, co-founded by Anand Chandrasekaran, who has also been brainstorming with us on the Deeshaa project for rural development. Anand and I met via the blog. I asked Anand to summarise what Aeroprise does:

Three ideas that describe ways Aeroprise is innovating…

  • Focus on problems the enterprise would like to solve today, using wireless devices they already have. Ability to tie wireless usage directly to business benefits and ROI. The application adapter approach makes mobilization a step by step process that’s easy to implement, and the configurability makes sure the mobile application adapts to the changing needs of the user.

  • Glueing the various value propositions seamlessly across the wireless value chain. Enterprise app vendors’ need to present a seamless solution,carriers’ need to generate lower customer churn, and infrastructure providers (wireless browsers, device makers)’ need to have powerfulapplications running on their platforms.

  • Mobility as a new paradigm. Instead of a technology first approach (take the desktop app and cram it down the wireless device!), we’re introducing aend user driven approach to wireless data.

  • One big opportunity in enterprise software will be to link the two worlds of computers and cellphones, providing real-time alerts and access to information for users. Give the proliferation of cellphones across Asia, it is a trend that may find its early adopters here.

    Linux on the Desktop

    PCWorld writes:

    Users often ask when Linux will be ready for the desktop, said Nat Friedman, vice president of research and development for the Ximian division of Novell. But that’s the wrong question, because for many desktop users, Linux is already ready, said Friedman, a developer of the Gnome Linux desktop.

    Instead of aiming for home desktop users, Linux vendors need to identify areas ripe for switching to Linux, including Unix workstations and enterprise desktops where the users run just a handful of basic programs like office and e-mail software, Friedman said. Linux isn’t yet ready for home users who want to run genealogy software or most video games, because those applications aren’t yet ported from Windows to Linux, he added.

    Linux on the desktop especially makes sense in countries outside the U.S., where Microsoft is seen as the “American monopoly,” Hall said. “Why send all that money outside of the country, when you can use that money in your own country to create jobs?” he said.

    He gave examples of Linux desktop adoption, including large-scale adoptions in Spain, Brazil, and Thailand, and a planned move from 14,000 Windows desktops to Linux in Munich’s city government. Linux is also used on desktops and point of sale devices at Burlington Coat Factory retail outlets and in several other U.S. corporations, Nat Friedman noted. Linux on the desktop is “happening right now — it has been happening for a couple of years,” Friedman said.

    Jon “maddog” Hall, executive director of Linux International, predicted 2004 and 2005 will be “the age of Linux on the desktop.” As falling prices make PCs affordable for people in developing countries, computer users there won’t want to pay hundreds of dollars for Microsoft software, he said.

    “When the price of used computer systems drops to something like $50 for a good Pentium II … you’ll find more and more of these so-called Third-World countries will be utilizing these (PCs) and free and open software for their businesses,” Hall said. “With Linux, they can do it with very little money.”

    Friedman, who cofounded the Linux desktop software vendor Ximian before it was acquired by Novell in August, also suggested Linux desktops shouldn’t try to look like Windows, as most of the major Linux desktop projects do. By putting a “start” button in the lower left corner, Linux desktops are telling users their experience will be just like Windows, he said.

    “What you’re doing is lying to the user,” Friedman said. “What you want to say from the outset is, ‘this is a different desktop experience, but it’s going to be easy.'”

    In a story in The Inquirer, Gartner mentions 8 myths about Linux on the desktop:

    1. Linux will be cheaper than Windows because StarOffice can be used instead of MS Office
    2. Linux is free
    3. No forced upgrades
    4. Linux will require significantly less labour to manage
    5. Linux will have a lower total cost of ownership than Windows because of available management tools
    6. Hardware will be able to be kept longer if Linux is used or holder hardware can be used
    7. Applications will be cheap or free
    8. Transferable skills

    TECH TALK: SMEs and Technology: Information Management Architecture

    Previously, we have discussed the reference architectures for thin client, thick server and systems software (including messaging and security, identity management and desktop computing). We continue the journey by looking at the other applications that small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) need: the information management and business applications layers.

    The information divide is perhaps one of the most important factors for inefficiencies within SMEs. Whatever be the kind of information, getting it to the right person at the right time to support effective decision-making is very important. In most SMEs, the information in most cases may be missing it may be with a person may not be available, it may be in an email that is not immediately accessible, or it may just not have been captured electronically. SMEs too need to focus on becoming intelligent, real-time enterprises, and this is where the layer of information management applications is critical.

    Bridging the information divide and putting the information plant in place is as important as setting up the manufacturing plant; in fact, it is the information plant which will provide the platform for sustainable competitive advantage.

    The various components that make up this layer are: the Database, an Events Manager, RSS Aggregator, Personal Knowledge Manager, Group Knowledge Manager, Digital Dashboard and Microcontent Client. Taken together, they make up the information refinery for the SME.

    The Database provides the repository of all information. There should be one integrated storehouse for all information. Even the business applications should use a single, common database. If this is not done, then the result will be information silos, and the need for multiple updates and copies of the same information. This must be avoided. The driving principle should be: only handle information once.

    The Events Manager enables alerts and notifications based on information in the database, independent of the application which has updated the information. Users can define the queries that need to be run periodically on the database, and the output can be an event stream which can be sent to the user either by email, SMS (Short Message Service, on the cellphone) or via RSS (Rich Site Summary, an XML format for syndication).

    The RSS Aggregator provides an RSS-to-IMAP service. It allows users to set up and manage subscriptions to RSS feeds. These RSS feeds can be from within the enterprise (created by the Events Manager) or those produced from external sources (like weblogs and news sites, as is happening already). The RSS Aggregator polls the various feeds periodically. Alternately, the feed providers can ping a web service whenever they are updated. Either way, it aggregates the RSS feeds, splits the feed into individual events and delivers them as email to IMAP mailboxes for the various users. The use of the IMAP mailbox allows users to read the feed items as part of their email client, and get a single, synchronised view of the mailbox from mail clients on different machines (at work and home, for example).

    Tomorrow: Information Management Architecture (continued)

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    More on Amazon’s Book Search

    StevenJohnson echoes an idea I wrote about yesterday:

    Think about it this way: I have my thousand-book library sitting in front of me, not 2 feet from where I’m typing right now. But Jeff Bezos has something that I don’t have: He’s got searchable digital versions of that library or a significant portion of it. (From a very unscientific survey that I performed, it seems like Amazon has about 50 percent of my library included in the “search inside” archive, though that percentage is bound to increase over time.) We tend to think of search requests as generally taking the form of “find me something I’ve never seen before.” But real-life search is often different: You’re looking for something you have seen before, but you’ve somehow mislaid or only half-remembered. You search for your glasses or your car keys. Or, in the case of books, you search for that paragraph about the Russian revolution’s impact on literacy rates that you read somewhere a few years ago. You know it’s in a book somewhere on your shelf, you just can’t remember which one.

    “Search inside” could be the perfect solution to this common problem. Inside of staring at the bookshelves for an hour, pulling out volumes, and flipping randomly through the pages, you’d log onto Amazon and “search inside your library.” Of course, you’d have to describe the contents of your library to Amazon, but unless your library is of Jeffersonian proportions, that’s no more than an afternoon’s work.

    A promising corollary effect of a “search inside your library” tool would be the creation of a new kind of personalized filter, this time run through other people’s book collections. We all know people who are better collectors and curators than they are writers or thinkers: You wouldn’t necessarily want to read an essay by them, but you’d love to spend a week browsing their library. By making Amazon libraries public, you could search through those libraries in addition to your own. You could always search the entire Amazon catalog, of course, but we all know how noisy open-ended searches can be. Most of the time, you’re not just looking for information about Sylvia Plath; you’re looking for a specific kind of information about Sylvia Plath. By organizing search around people and not just text strings, you can narrow those results dramatically.

    A few steps forward in constructing the Memex.

    Microsoft and Linux

    [via Navneet] Robert Cringely writes: “Linux scares Microsoft on several levels. There’s this business of giving the software away for free, which is totally confusing to Bill Gates — confusing and scary, since it undermines the entire basis of his fortune. But it’s the breadth of Linux and its potential on other platforms that also scares Microsoft. At a time when Microsoft is trying to be sure its software runs on all the handhelds, set-top boxes, mobile phones and any other new machine types that just might replace in our hearts the PC, versions of Linux compete on all those platforms, too.”