China investing in Linux

The future – as seen by China, and invisible to India, from the . NYTimes:

The Chinese government plans to throw its financial weight behind Linux-based computer systems that could rival Microsoft Corp.’s Windows in one of the world’s fastest-growing technology markets, an official said on Wednesday.

China would build a domestic software industry around Linux — a cheaper software standard that can copied and modified freely — said Gou Zhongwen, a vice minister at the powerful Ministry of Information Industry.

“Linux is an opportunity for us to make a breakthrough in developing software,” he was quoted as saying on the ministry Web site www.mii.gov.cn. “But the market cannot be developed on a large scale without government support.”

Chinese officials have said they preferred to use software with open source codes to ensure that software guarding sensitive state information and networks cannot be tampered with easily.

The government has been pushing the development of a homegrown software industry and a national standard for Linux to counter the dominance of Windows.

India should be leading the world in Linux, with the government at the forefront. It is an opportunity to shape one of the most important trends in software, and yet, we do nothing. Unlike software services, where the primary beneficiaries are the international companies which outsource the work to Indian companies (and thus reduce their costs), in this case, the big beneficiaries will be Indian companies, which can make use of an affordable computing platform to deploy greater technology across their enterprise. Hopefully, this will also lead to the emergence of Indian software product companies with a storng base locally, and who can then take their solutions to other emerging markets (China included).

UN’s WSIS

CNN looks ahead to the United Nations’ World Summit on the Information Society, which takes place in Geneva December 10-12, and talks to Nitin Desai, the planner-in-chief.

Desai says the Summit aims to achieve two fundamental things. First, the U.N. wants to formulate a set of policy goals for technology that the world’s countries will agree upon.

Just as one example, Desai suggests we might agree to connect all the world’s schools to the Internet by some specific date. Companies, governments (both donors and recipients), and NGOs would then begin working together toward this goal. Other goals might include timetables for getting citizens access to government information, or goals for e-health programs in developing countries.

Another big part of this event will be what he calls a “policy trade show,” which highlights successful applications and systems that can aid development. Here are two examples of the kinds of initiatives Desai hopes to highlight:

In India peasants in several states can now access land records online. While farmers usually have to take a lengthy, often multi-day trip to a local government center, now local entrepreneurs oversee kiosks where the farmers can look up the information they need to make a transaction or research a deed.

The mayor of Seoul, South Korea has put municipal contracts online for all to see. Now if you have a beef about a local road project that’s disrupting your neighborhood you can learn not only the name of the contractor, but who in government approved the deal.

“It’s harder to get people to throw away their computer every year,” he notes. “Now the opportunity is to get technology into geographies where it has not penetrated, and also to sell it into new areas of application.” He’s thinking specifically about new uses for tech in health, education, and government.

The goal should be 1:1 computing – one family, one computer; one employee, one computer; one business, one server. All of this at between USD 10-15 per person/family per month. To make this happen, one needs server-centric computing, thin clients, open-source software with remote management of the IT infrastructure.

MyGoogle?

The Guardian writes about where Google might be headed once it does its IPO:

Google’s search is stuck: its database is not getting bigger, and its search results are not getting better, they are getting worse. Things that were simple when Google had just a few geek users are now hard because it is under continuous attack from thousands of people who track its every move and will resort to any trick they can find to get their sites ranked higher. The technology that won the last search engine wars won’t be enough to win the next one, as Google surely knows.

According to Moreover’s Pitkow, the one most likely to win in the long run is the one that can increase its “switching costs” by adding personalisation. At the moment, anyone can search at Google or Teoma or any other search engine, and there is no penalty to switching. That’s different from, say, Amazon, where things like one-click ordering, intelligent book recommendations, wish lists and other personalisation features discourage users from defecting to rival sites, even if they are cheaper.

It’s hard to switch from Yahoo if you use its personalised My Yahoo service, email, instant messaging, chat and shopping facilities. It’s hard to avoid Microsoft if you use its operating system, browser and Hotmail email service. It’s easy to switch from Google. Whether they know it or not, the people who plan to buy Google shares could be taking a gamble on it solving that problem, and soon.

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Going into Business with Partners

Meg Hourihan has some excellent advice for entrepreneurs going into business:

Starting a business with a partner (or partners) is very different than starting one alone. The closest analogy I can come up with is that it’s like marrying someone, and the business you build is your child. Now you’d never marry someone simply because they possess different skills than you do (she likes to cook, and I don’t mind cleaning up, so I guess we’re a match!). You marry someone who shares similar values and who shares similar goals. Choosing a business partner is a decision that should be undertaken with the gravity of any long-term commitment.

If you like to spend a lot of money and your partner doesn’t, you’re going to clash. If you want to grow the business and she wants to keep a small team, you’ll fight. Your partner may want to do something you consider morally questionable, how will you resolve it? Add to the partnership the questions of equity and authority, never mind cash flow and the actual work you have to do for clients, and pretty quickly you can find yourself in one heck of a mess. The more work you can do upfront before starting the business to ensure you and your partner(s) are a good match, the greater the likelihood of success. Spend a lot of time talking about your hopes and dreams for the company, and discuss what you’ll do when you don’t agree about something, and how you’d handle things if the money ran out.

I would add one more thing: when one decides on a business partnership, also talk about exit – if at a point of time in the future, one or more partners wanted to leave, how could they do so. This can save a lot of heartburn later.

The Citizens’ Media Industry

Jeff Jarvis writes on “business waiting to be grabbed” building on a comment by AOL’s Jonathan Miller that two-thirds of a user’s time online is spent on audience-generated content (as opposed to professionally created content):

  • Tools to create content. This means weblog tools and video and audio tools. It means mobile tools, too. And it means tools for individuals and groups.

  • Tools to manage and share content. We need the means to store and serve our stuff, to file it away and find it again.

  • The means to find the stuff we want to find: searches, directories, links, categorization, recommendations, reviews. If you can’t find the content, it’s not content yet.

  • The means to find and make stars. All citizens’ media will not be created equal. Stars will emerge. Stars will move to other media. This will also validate citizens’ media. It’s a two-sided coin: The creators will need agents and marketers to discover them and package them and sell them; the audience of audiences will need help to find the best: It’s the atomic American Idol.

  • The capture of buzz. The unique value of citizens’ media is that it captures what the citizens — the audience, the marketplace, the electorate, depending on your vantage — are thinking and saying. That needs to be grabbed and measured, a la Technorati.

  • Interactivity. This is first and foremost a social enterprise. People want to talk and share. That is much of the content of the people’s content.

  • Targeting. What will make all this pay, economically, is that all this allows marketers who are allowed in to target messages to willing and receptive audiences; that will be the key and killer strength of citizens’ media over the pro’s.

  • Recapturing Corporate Asia’s Dynamism

    WSJ has an article by W. Chan Kim which urges Asian companies to focus on capturing new market spaces and value pioneering:

    Asian companies would do well to understand what led to their meteoric rise in the past. How is it that Japanese companies rapidly came to dominate global markets? Think of the greatest successes — Sony’s Walkman, JVC’s VCRs, energy-efficient, high-quality smaller compact cars made by Honda, Toyota and Nissan. What is common here? And what has allowed Korea’s Samsung recently to emerge as a driving force in the global cell-phone industry, or for Japan’s DoCoMo to catapult the Japanese’s mobile Internet market ahead of all Western counterparts?

    A close look reveals two overriding principles. First, the emphasis was not on competing in existing markets but on creating new market spaces. Sony’s Walkman, for example, created the new market of high-fidelity mobile stereos. The Walkman essentially combined the size and weight convenience of transistor radios with the acoustics and trendy image of “boom boxes” to unleash a whole new market space that allowed people to listen to their favorite music on trains or while walking down the street. Consumers the world over adored the emotional experience created by Sony and rewarded it with one of the greatest and most profitable runs in Sony’s history. But if Sony had benchmarked the competition and focused on incrementally building advantages over them, the insight for the Walkman would have never been born. Likewise, if Japanese automakers benchmarked the models coming down the production lines in Detroit, the mass market for compact, energy-efficient cars would not have been launched by the Japanese.

    Second, the Sony Walkman was not the product of a race to provide leading-edge technology. Nor was JVC’s enormously successful VCRs or DoCoMo’s mobile Internet business or Honda, Toyota and Nissan’s high-quality compact cars. What united these companies in their drive to create new market space was a ruthless obsession with “value pioneering,” not technology pioneering. That is to say, offering buyers products and services that are radically more fun, simple, productive, convenient, easy to use and environmentally friendly, while pricing these products and services at affordable levels. Take DoCoMo. A month’s worth of Internet content cost only as much as a copy of a weekly magazine. By creating the “I-mode” button that allows cell-phone users to be continuously on-line and offering strategically priced Internet content that is easy to access, the mass market for DoCoMo’s services exploded. DoCoMo was not a technology pioneer, but it was a value pioneer.

    TECH TALK: SMEs and Technology: Tech Distribution

    Let us begin by looking at the distribution system for technology for the enterprise segment. For the large buyers, there is a well-established system a mix of technology creators, systems integrators, distributors and resellers aided by technology magazines, trade shows and consulting firms which ensure that the message about new technologies and roadmaps gets to the decision makers (CIOs and IT managers). However, the process of decision-making in the small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) is very different, and the system that works so well for the larger enterprises does not work for the SME segment.

    Most SMEs are hard to reach, very distributed, have limited IT staff, and cannot afford to pay a lot of money. This makes it a less attractive market for the IT sellers. However, what a single SME lacks in terms of purchasing power is made up for by the entire category. Yet, that in now way alters the magnitude of the challenge faced by IT companies in selling to them. The result has been that SMEs and IT companies find themselves trapped in a low-equilibrium situation, which usage of IT is sub-optimal within SMEs.

    Let us consider the tech distribution value chain that is there in India. Most SMEs in India are addressed by the assemblers or GIDs (Genuine Intel Dealers). They sell hardware, provides oftware (legal or pirated) as asked for by the customers, do the networking within the office, provide basic support on the hardware, and undertake the facilities management as part of the annual maintenance contracts. Much of the channel is re-active, responding to what the customer wants. The channel needs to provide a full-solution, but is unable to do so because of its own limitations (limited staff, and the ease of just selling the box).

    What is meant by a full-solution? For starters, there is a need for user education, on how technology can make a difference in increasing productivity of the SME. Next, there is a need for technical selling and demonstrations, showing how technology can actually make for an intelligent, real-time enterprise. This would mean showcasing software (vertical, industry-specific solutions) and appropriate other technologies (for example, WiFi). This solutions showcase needs to be round-the-clock and not just limited to periodic roadshows. It also needs to be at a point in the neighbourhood of the SMEs.

    In addition, after the sale, the SME needs installation, training, support and upgrades. While this happens today, it leaves much to be desired. Typically, in the event of problems, the channel who takes responsibility only for the hardware will blame the software provider, and vice-versa. The one who suffers is the SME. There is little incentive for the channel to support software which the customer is not paying for. The customer, on the other hand, believes that pirated software is the only way to go, because the cost for legal software is extremely high. As a result, software once installed stays the way it is, and is rarely upgraded.

    This sub-optimal situation needs to change. It is not going to be easy to transform the channel. What is needed is a different institution which addresses the shortcomings of the channel and provides a one-stop solution to SMEs. And for that, we turn to ideas from IBM and Wal-mart.

    Tomorrow: An IBM for SMEs

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