Ozzie on Longhorn and Groove

eWeek has an interview with Ray Ozzie. Some excerpts:

If anybody had any doubt that the rich client is alive and well, this should extinguish any of that doubt. [Microsoft is] pouring billions into keeping the rich client alive and well and healthy, and there are just an amazing number of very smart people working on the stuff.

We [at Groove] stay focused on solving the business problem that we’re working on, which is to reduce the cost of coordination between individuals.

As a client side developer, I really want to take advantage of that stuff. It lets me be a whole lot more productive. But the more I do that the more I rely on higher-level infrastructure being around. So what I would ask you is the following: Are the Linux community and the Mac community prepared to step up their client-side investments to build higher-level frameworks to make it easier for me to code like a Microsoft is doing?

I don’t think Linux and the open-source community can win by trying to out-spend or out-innovate Microsoft. Client-side software is a sustaining innovation. What is needed is a disruptive innovation – and that is there the combination of thin clients and server-side software comes in, in conjunction with a focus on the new markets (the next billion users).

Sun’s Linux Desktop Ideas

The Register reports on some interesting plans that Sun has for its Java Desktop System based on Linux:

Well placed sources have confirmed that Sun is teaming up with service providers to roll out a whole new set of “rented” desktop services…Sun is batting around the idea of teaming with service providers to rent out applications such as StarOffice and also hardware such as online storage. The service provider could theoretically ship a thin client or white box to a consumer and then charge for various products. Do you want browsing, StarOffice and storage? Well, that’s x dollars per month.

The idea is to offer cheap computers to certain types of customers who essentially rent the system. The service provider could manage the servers in its own data center. By shipping something like a thin client that has relatively few parts, the service provider and hardware maker reduce the risk of hardware failures.

Sun could then offer up a type of rent-a-blade product to either the service provider or end user. Customers would purchase storage space for their documents, photos and music.

On a related note, Dana Blankenhorn has a cool idea for getting Linux on the desktop to take-off: “One great game that requires it. A DVD, one that doesn’t run on Windows, which has a great game that you play online, is the kind of offer that will sell the whole bundle.”

MicroPayment Options

Technology Review writes about the “web’s new currency”:

It sounds simple, but it wasnt possible a few months ago. Most Web merchants still cant support micropaymentstransactions of about a dollar or lessbecause the processing fees from banks and credit card companies erase any profit. But Peppercoin, the brainchild of Rivest and fellow MIT computer scientist Silvio Micali, is in the vanguard of a new crop of companiesincluding BitPass of Palo Alto, CA, and Paystone Technologies of Vancouver, British Columbiathat make cash-for-bits transactions superefficient. These companies founders are well aware of the string of defunct e-payment companies whose virtual currencies have gone the way of the Confederate dollar. But theyve got something new up their sleeves: easier-to-use technology that allows Web sites to accept tiny payments by effectively processing them in batches, thereby cutting down on bank fees.

So throw out your current conceptions of Web surfing. Rather than sifting through pop-up ads and subscription offers, imagine dropping a quarter on an independent film, video game, specialized database, or more powerful search engine. If programmers and Web artists could profitably charge a few cents at a time, their businesses could flourish. And with an easy way for users to buy a richer variety of content, experts say, the current deadlock over digital piracy could effectively dissolve, giving way to a multibillion-dollar business stream that rejuvenates the wider entertainment industry the same way video rentals did Hollywood in the 1980s. Down the road, cell phones, personal digital assistants, and smart cards equipped with micropayment technology could even supplement cash in the real world.

SmartPhones

Business Week writes on the engineering going behind the next generation of smartphones, which are serving as gaming consoles, MP3 players, computers, cameras, TV sets, and more: “Two main areas of development are hardware — beefing up processing and power management — and the much-talked-about customer experience, which focuses on how to make features more compelling and easier to use. In short, researchers are scrambling to find ways to give new features better functionality and, more important, to make them so appealing that customers won’t think twice about paying for them.”

I wcouldn’t help thinking – why not make these smartphones as thin clients? That would simplify what they need to do. Yes, they wouldn’t work if the network is not there, but such places are becoming increasingly rare.

We crammed in a lot into PCs, increasing their complexity and cost (from the perspective of users in markets like India) and limiting adoption. If we were to design PCs in a world where networking was pervasive, would we do it the same way? I am not sure. I believe the way to get the next billion users is to look at thin-client computers/cellphones assuming ubiquitous networks, and centralise the processing and storage. And guess what, no sync-ing will be needed!

J2EE’s Future

News.com writes on the first eight years of Java 2 Enterprise Edition:

J2EE is as powerful as any developer could ever dream. But with power comes complexity. All the J2EE specifications put side by side easily take a yard of shelf space. While I have a hard time visualizing enterprise technology becoming “easy” in my lifetime, it can–and should–be easier. If J2EE is to achieve mass adoption while maintaining what makes J2EE powerful, it must become easier.

In the same way the ease of VisualBasic unleashed Windows applications development, routine J2EE development tasks need to become less elite and more mainstream. The good news is we’re getting there already. To automate repetitive J2EE procedures, tools are emerging that offer a visual framework for traditional corporate application developers to use J2EE, leaving more complex programming to the elite J2EE developers.

The second roadblock–the speed at which J2EE innovations are made available to customers–is equally important to overcome. No matter how simple J2EE becomes, if it pursues a glacial pace of innovation, it will freeze itself out of the market. Someone somewhere will come up with something faster. Perhaps not better–but faster. And speed rules.

StarOffice v MS-Office

Walter Mossberg (WSJ) compares the two, and finds that even while StarOffice/OpenOffice has improved, it still does not match up to MS-Office: “As I said last year, [StarOffice] is mainly for light users preparing basic documents who either can’t afford Office, or hate Microsoft so much they’ll live with some complexity and limitations.”

There is a market which will be delighted with OpenOffice – it is the market which does not want to pirate software and cannot afford the high costs of Microsoft Office. This is a market which is to be found in the SMEs of the emerging markets. No one is pitching affordable alternatives to them, leaving the only option as piracy if they want to use an office suite (which they have to if they are using a computer).

TECH TALK: SMEs and Technology: Tech 7-11 (Part 2)

5. Training Centre: The Tech 7-11 needs to allocate a small area where it can provide ongoing hands-on training for business owners, end-users and support engineers. This helps in enabling a key part of the value chain because without the necessary education, not only will IT be used sub-optimally, it is likely to be not even deployed. Once people know what technology can do in the training sessions, they will use it to become more productive individually and in groups.

6. Local User Groups: The Tech 7-11 can become the local meeting place for SMEs to share their experiences with IT. This way, success stories can be diffused rapidly through the network. These local user groups can also put forth their business requirements which can be taken up for solution by the Tech 7-11 through its central engineering centre. Thus, there is a multi-way flow of information: not just between the Tech 7-11 and SMEs, but also amongst SMEs. In some ways, this is the role that local trade associations play; the Tech 7-11 helps bring the focus on and around IT and best practices.

7. College Students Co-ordination: The Tech 7-11 serves as a co-ordinating agency to manage the college students, who can be roped in to provide installation, training and support in their free time. The benefit for college students is that they get practical, hands-on, real-world experience on live technology projects, rather than working within just the confines of the theoretical, academic environment. This makes it more likely that the students will take up meaningful jobs in the domestic IT industry leveraging their skillsets and learnings, rather than working in a call centre. (There are plenty of others who can do the jobs that many of the IT graduates are now doing in call centres.) In the SME IT value chain, the college students provide an effective and rapid response teams for the low-cost resources that are needed to provide technical marketing assistance, do the installation, and provide first-level support.

8. New Tech Previews: The Tech 7-11 also demonstrates the emerging technologies be it WiFi, RFIDs, smartphones, new user interfaces, or even new software applications. This is thus the distribution point for entrepreneurs to try out their innovations. The goal is to get the early adopters in the neighbourhood interested and become the testbeds for piloting these technologies.

Thus, the Tech 7-11 plays a multi-faceted role in the tech distribution chain. It is, in effect, the hub around which the affordable computing ecosystem for SMEs needs to be built to make realthe vision of 1:1 Computing and create intelligent, real-time enterprises.

Conclusion

SMEs in India and other emerging markets present an enticing opportunity. And yet, many have failed to unravel this segment at the bottom of the pyramid. Recent innovations in technology combined with the commoditisation of hardware and software driven by the developed countries offers new hope and opportunity that the mass of millions of SMEs can indeed be given affordable, managed, standardised, managed technology solutions. Given the lack of legacy of IT usage, this is a market which can be the primary driver for technology growth in the coming years.

Continue reading