Linux Action

The Register reports on two Linux-related developments: Red Hat’s decision to pull the plug on its Red Hat Linux line and get users to shift to its Enterprise product line, and Novell’s decision to acquire Suse for USD 210 million, and IBM’s decision to invest USD 50 million in Novell. [Red Hat’s market cap is USD 2.6 billion.]

I think there are three key things here:

  • the free Linux distribution game may be up for grabs (depends on how Fedora shapes up), since Red Hat will no longer be available for free use.

  • Novell is going to be a serious player in the Linux space. Suse is the second company it has acquired after Ximian.

  • With a major like Novell backing it, Linux is now very serious business on the desktop also.

  • IT Pros Returning to India

    Business World has a cover story on the 35,000 Indian IT professionals who have returned back to India in the past 3 years:

    What could now be called Phase III is an era when the Indian IT industry is at the peak of its confidence, doing high-tech product engineering and even full product development. An era that coincides with the trend of Indian IT workers who prefer to work in India. Says Partha Iyengar, vice-president and research director, Gartner India: “These are not the typical dotcom refugees, but people coming primarily out of choice.” For, most of these are not joining the ranks of bug-fixers or maintenance staff, but are working on product rollouts. “Of every 100 in the US, just about 10 are returning, but this marks the maturing of the Indian IT delivery capability. Soon it will be akin to: can I be in the watch trade and have nothing to do with Switzerland?” says Jerry Rao, CMD, MphasiS BFL Group.

    Also see a related story, which has more details on the trend:

    Of the 35,000-odd people who have come back in the last three years, Nasscom estimates that at least 10-15% have lived in the US for over 10 years. They are full US citizens who have taken work permits to come to India to test the waters first.

    The second group returning are not US citizens, but who hold the coveted Green Card, the first step towards US citizenship. At least 15% of the returnees are in this category.

    Of course, in terms of sheer numbers (over 70%), the biggest group of techies coming back today are still those who went to the US on H1-B visas. They’re home either because their visas expired or they were laid off. There are also those who opted out just before it could get worse for them in the US.

    Not surprisingly, the homebound techie is bringing a variety of experience. And depending on how long he or she has been in the US, companies here are keen to tap the unique characteristics of the returning geek. Their experience is proving to be the key driver of some of the latest developments in the industry.

    I had written about the changing Indian landscape sometime ago in my “Dear NRI” Tech Talk.

    Online Journalism in India, and IndiaMirror

    Pradyuman Maheshwari of Mediaah interviewed me via email on the state of Internet journalism in India.

    I also added some thoughts on a concept I call “IndiaMirror”:

    Build a MirrorWorld by geographical area, categorised by ZIP (pincode everybody knows the pincode of where they live and work). Think of it as an for the physical world only it is managed in a distributed manner. Our goals in doing IndiaMirror are the following:

    1. Provide a revenue model from the local small buyers and sellers a MicroGoogle
    2. Be a utility in the lives of people used daily
    3. Create a platform which can be used to discuss and solve local issues and problems
    4. Build an Information Marketplace platform
    5. Enable people to create their own blogs and RSS feeds (via DIY forms). People can do their own updates – publishing
    6. Create a weblog/wiki/RSS for every ZIP in India. Everything goes into a backend database
    7. The RSS Aggregator delivers RSS feeds to peoples mailboxes. People can subscribe for specific events – which are delivered to their computer or cellphone
    8. Imagine if each physical object has a virtual presence (for example, a theatre could provide updates on movies and bookings; local shops can provide updates on whats new in terms of sales, etc.)
    9. People can also create a directory of local resources and landmarks. During elections this can be used to discuss the candidates contesting.

    This is an innovative grassroots exercise in getting person-to-person publishing and syndication. It bridges information gaps. Think of it as an “information marketplace”.

    What is required is a mix of seeing the new technologies that are coming up, and applying them to fulfill needs of today’s non-consumers.

    Pradyuman’s take: “Mediaah! believes that Rajesh Jain’s model of an ‘IndiaMirror’ is workable, and must be implemented. We suggest you start small: make it city-specific and look at just a Chennai, Bangalore, Delhi, Bombay, Calcutta or wherever else Mirror. Mediaah! will be happy to have you kickstart this.”

    Google’s Advertising Business

    The Register has an interesting take on Google’s business:

    [Google is] said to be in the ‘search engine business’ – but unless you take the term at its most literal, to encompass comparison shopping sites, or pay-to-play engines – there is no public search engine business.

    Google is an advertising business. It’s an intermediary between media buyers and sites who want to see some advertising revenue: it’s simply an old-fashioned media agency. Some of the property, the ‘billboards’ if you like, in the sense of the word that ClearChannel understands it, Google owns and operates itself. Advertisements show up on the search results, in Usenet groups and of course on its prime ‘content’ advertising space at the moment, Google’s main rival is Overture, which was recently acquired by Yahoo!. In this business model, Google doesn’t ‘own’ the properties but acts a broker in the classic sense.

    But Google started late in this business and it isn’t in the lead: a report by Jupiter this week advises that Overture represents better value for marketers.

    And unlike Microsoft and Yahoo!, Google has few other revenue sources.

    Its recommendation: “Microsoft makes an excellent partner for Google. And Google’s marque search engine matters much less to Google than you might think. It’s not really in that business – because there isn’t a ‘search engine business’.”

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    Dan Gillmor writes: “Apple Computer’s online music store has won attention for its stylish ease of use, and deservedly so. Yet one of its most interesting features has drawn little notice — the ability to buy something online that costs less than a dollar.” Two micropayment services are discussed: Bitpass and Peppercoin.

    RSS is the Real Revolution

    Roland Tanglao writes something that I echo completely:

    [RSS is] what will enable blogs to become mainstream to the point of making the term “blog” obsolete. Perhaps billions won’t be made from blogs, but billions will be made from RSS. Real Time Enterprise is big and getting bigger and RSS enables the Real Time Enterpise because it’s the glue that ties together knowledge flows from blogs, KM and enterprisse systems like SAP to industrial processes such as “number of widgets made in Shanghai” yesterday.

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    Social Software for KM

    Ross Mayfield writes about the need to rethink knowledge management, pointing to discussions by Dave Pollard and Jay Fienberg.

    One of the points made by Dave is about the use of social software for KM and its benefits:

  • The entire issue of centralized content collection and management goes away. Everyone does their own.

  • The intranet becomes a people-to-people connector instead of a content repository, a ‘link harvester’, scanning all traffic across it and dynamically identifying connections to people and their knowledge. New tools would be needed to allow such functionality. These would be Social Software tools, not KM tools.

  • The intranet architecture begins to look more like that of a telephone switch than that of a DBMS. It gets very skinny. There are no central databases.

  • Each individual’s subscribable, personally-indexed weblog becomes a surrogate or proxy for the individual when s/he’s not available personally.

  • Organizational boundaries become irrelevant. It doesn’t matter whether the person you are sharing with is a work colleague, a supplier, customer, friend or advisor, an individual or a team, inside or outside the company. You share what you know with those you trust, period. Security would hence be provided at the individual level, not managed by the enterprise. The same way employees know what hard-copy documents can be shared with whom, they set up subscription access to their blog categories correspondingly

  • Jay provides “a set of recommendations designed to suggest a system in which people in the company are encouraged to publish information to each other and collaborate with and through that information…I think these recommendations are worth posting here as they suggests a set of requirements that microcontent oriented systems (like the iCite net, wikis, blogs, etc.) might best match.”

    Summarises Ross: “We are seeing Enterprise Social Software being considered not as knowledge management, but as a better way of doing management. The knowing-doing gap is closing, but not as we expected. Facilitate doing in a social context and you gain learning and insights in social context.”

    The way I have been thinking about this is quite similar: how can we use the appropriate tools with methodologies first for personal productivity, and then for group productivity. Managing information is a key aspect of the first process, and sharing information is important for the second. This is the bottom-up process that enterprise knowledge management needs to focus on.

    Low-cost Rural ATM

    Sify News (via PTI) reports on IIT’s Rural ATM which cuts the cost from Rs 700,000 to Rs 30,000 (USD 650). This was one of the innovations presented by Prof. Ashok Jhunjhunwalla during his presentation.

    The prototype would dispense smaller denomination notes to villagers and be connected to a kiosk with an internet connection through the CorDect WLL connection, Professor Ashok Jhunjhunwala said.

    “Presently the cost of operations for banks are higher to finance people in villages. We are leveraging technology to enable micro financing to the rural areas by cutting down on costs”, he told reporters.

    Jhunjhunwala said the ATMs would have web cameras and use finger prints for identification of a drawee, besides allowing the bank the authority to validate customers in an automated way.

    The ATM is expected to be launched in January.

    Here is a link to the presentation (about 4 MB) Prof Jhunjhunwala made at

    TECH TALK: SMEs and Technology: 1:1 Enterprise (Part 2)

    2. Installing a Server to Create the Right Backend Infrastructure

    It is remarkable how little attention small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) pay to getting the right IT infrastructure in place. At the heart of this is setting up a reliable messaging and security solution. Ensuring that every individual can get a personalised email address, setting up filters to screen viruses and spam, having a firewall to prevent unauthorised electronic intrusions, providing every employee with access to the Internet these are just some of the basic requirements for the IT base.

    In addition, centralised storage of files and management of printers eases two key pain points in enterprises. All of this can be done by deploying a single server. Just as an engine powers a train, the server powers the information flows within the organisation. It provides the right foundation to build the rest of the desktop computing infrastructure. It should be possible to set up the complete server infrastructure for no more than Rs 4,500 (USD 100) per employee hardware and the systems software software included.

    3. Providing Every Employee with a Computer

    A computer on every desktop this was Bill Gates vision. Today, much of the developed world has achieved this state. The computer is, arguably, the single most important reason for the productivity increase we are seeing across the US, Europe and Japan. And yet, in most of the emerging markets, SMEs still use archaic paper- and labour-intensive processes, when smart use of technology can make their own staff more efficient and productive. They key to making this happen is the provisioning of one computer for every employee.

    Take something as simple as email. Email does not work well internally if half the organization has it, and the other half does not. The processes based in the organization will always fall to the lowest common denominator among the staff. This is what needs to change. Be it thin clients or thick desktops, Linux or Windows, a computer on every desktop must be considered as fundamental for productivity as providing a table and chair.

    4. Deploying Business Applications

    The organisation now has a server in place, a 1:1 employee:computer ratio, and its staff trained in the use of the computers. The next step is to focus on group productivity applications and the core business applications. The first category of applications are critical because all employees are part of groups groups with a goal. This is where the new breed of social software applications can make a big difference. Whether it is the use of group calendars, discussion forums, weblogs, wikis, shared workspaces, news aggregators or social networking software, the aim is to ensure that individuals can collaborate better with each other.

    The second category of applications is focused on encoding the core business processes and creating the information flows so that decision-makers within the extended enterprise have access to the right and most recent information. This is what so far has been the domain of the big companies. Now, however, it is possible to cost-effectively deploy integrated eBusiness suites to makes SMEs intelligent, event-driven and real-time. Integrating with the cellphone networks is now becoming important this is a world of, in Intels words, mobilised software.

    Start and Finish IT

    The entire 4-step process should be done in a time-bound manner. IT needs to be treated as core infrastructure by the SME just as one would think of the manufacturing plant and machinery. It is the way businesses use technology that can make give them the competitive edge.

    Tomorrow: Web Presence

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