OSDir 2003 Awards

Here. A summary:

Best Application in…
Java: Eclipse
Perl: MovableType
Python: BitTorrent
XML: Jabber

Best Applications:
Instant Messaging: Gaim
Email: SpamAssassin (Double Winner)
Overall Desktop App: OpenOffice
Database: MySQL
Web: Tiki

Coffee-houses as Information Exchanges of the Past

As part of its year-end double issue (sadly, no crossword this year), The Economist suggests that “coffee fuelled the information exchanges of the 17th and 18th centuries:”

WHERE do you go when you want to know the latest business news, follow commodity prices, keep up with political gossip, find out what others think of a new book, or stay abreast of the latest scientific and technological developments? Today, the answer is obvious: you log on to the internet. Three centuries ago, the answer was just as easy: you went to a coffee-house. There, for the price of a cup of coffee, you could read the latest pamphlets, catch up on news and gossip, attend scientific lectures, strike business deals, or chat with like-minded people about literature or politics.

The coffee-houses that sprang up across Europe, starting around 1650, functioned as information exchanges for writers, politicians, businessmen and scientists. Like today’s websites, weblogs and discussion boards, coffee-houses were lively and often unreliable sources of information that typically specialised in a particular topic or political viewpoint. They were outlets for a stream of newsletters, pamphlets, advertising free-sheets and broadsides. Depending on the interests of their customers, some coffee-houses displayed commodity prices, share prices and shipping lists, whereas others provided foreign newsletters filled with coffee-house gossip from abroad.

Coffee-houses were centres of scientific education, literary and philosophical speculation, commercial innovation and, sometimes, political fermentation. Collectively, Europe’s interconnected web of coffee-houses formed the internet of the Enlightenment era.

The kinship between coffee-houses and the internet has recently been underlined by the establishment of wireless hotspots which provide internet access, using a technology called WiFi, in modern-day coffee-shops.

Such hotspots allow laptop-toting customers to check their e-mail and read the news as they sip their lattes. But history provides a cautionary tale for those hotspot operators that charge for access. Coffee-houses used to charge for coffee, but gave away access to reading materials. Many coffee-shops are now following the same model, which could undermine the prospects for fee-based hotspots. Information, both in the 17th century and today, wants to be freeand coffee-drinking customers, it seems, expect it to be.

PC-Telephone Integration

[via Stuart Henshall] This has been a dream for many years. META Group says that there is now renewed interest:

For most users, the telephone and computing infrastructures remain disconnected. However, there is a renewed interest in combining both of these end-user communication points, partly due to the growing interest in voice over IP and desktop conferencing.

“Although we are skeptical that most users will actually end up combining their trusty telephones with their PCs, there are definite areas for synergy — particularly in the access to complex voice mail and conferencing features,” said Steve Kleynhans, vice president with META Group’s Technology Research Services. “We expect PC access to dialing — as well as integration of voice mail — and e-mail inboxes to become commonplace by 2006.”

User environments are growing increasingly complex. Unified inboxes, real-time information feeds, and instant messaging require information displays that are continually available, which drives a need for more screen real estate. Increasing screen real estate through multiple monitors has been common in high-value environments such as traders’ desks or operations consoles.

“Web conferencing is an example where multiple monitors could be immediately beneficial to a large number of users,” said Kleynhans. “A user often has a presentation displayed on one screen, while taking notes or chatting with participants on another screen. Arranging multiple windows on a single monitor is awkward and limiting, whereas having dual monitors would make it much easier. By 2006, we expect 40% of new information worker environments to include dual monitors.”

Amazon’s Web Services

A couple of articles on Amazon’s public web services:

News.com: “[Amazon is] using Web services to shake up the business-to-business end of retail. Amazon makes it easy for sellers of goods ranging from books to flowers to create their own applications using its e-commerce Web site…By all accounts, Amazon’s Web services are a huge success, with more than 24,000 registered users and 10 million hits a day…Unlike a walled-off trading network, Amazon is building a system where anyone can piggyback off many of the capabilities on its Web site. Microsoft even extended its Office 2003 with an Amazon Web service that can be embedded within common documents–what Microsoft calls ‘software as a service.’ ”

Business Week: “Building on a raft of tech initiatives, from an ever-richer Web site to new search technology, [Jeff] Bezos aims to reprogram the company into something even more potent. The notion is to create a technology-driven nexus for e-commerce that’s as pervasive and powerful as Microsoft’s Windows operating software is in computing. That’s right: Bezos hopes to create a Windows for e-commerce…Using these so-called Amazon Web Services, reached via a browser, merchants who want to sell more can use its patented one-click purchasing system, for instance, or tap quickly into sales data for particular products. Even independent programmers are getting interested: In just 18 months, up to 35,000 programmers have downloaded software that enables them to pick and choose Amazon services and, much as they do with Windows, write new applications based on them.”

Tim O’Reilly provides the bigger picture:

I’ve been arguing that sites like Amazon and EBay are not just web sites, but early examples of a new paradigm that will transform the computer industry as we know it today. We start by looking at them as applications, then as platforms, and ultimately need to think about how they will be integrated into an internet-scale operating system. In this future, many of the principles of open source — particularly user customizability and distributed collaboration — will play an enormous role, even in applications that we would not normally think of as open source. But at the same time, the new paradigm challenges open source licenses that are conditioned on the act of software distribution (which is no longer necessary), and that fail to recognize that control over data may be more important than access to source code or control over software APIs.

I see the same thing happening with my fingering of web services as the first step towards a next generation “internet operating system”, and data rich “infoware” applications like Amazon and EBay being the next step beyond the shrinkwrapped software applications of the PC era.

Continue reading

Blog-centric Microcommunities

John Battelle (who has an excellent blog on Search) has an interesting idea: LinkedIn+Vertical Blogs = Interesting Microcommunities.

I think it’d be cool if you could join a network of folks who read the same blog(s). I’ve always maintained that any good publishing effort understands and reflects its community – that it is both a mirror to the community members, and a window into that community for folks who are interested in joining or understanding that community. Conferences have always been a neat way for readers of a publication to meet each other, for example. Foo Camp was one of the first I’ve been to where “blog ecologies” ended up meeting FTF, and it was quite something to see how folks who’d been connected mainly by blogs ended up working together in real space.

So think if you could “see” all the other people who read this site each day (and who opt-in to be seen, of course) – and invite them into a LinkedIn like network if you wished to. I wonder if that’s in the cards for LinkedIn – to do vertical OEM stuff like that? Are there others working on stuff like this?

Would be nice to do this around my blog…wonder how we can do it.

TECH TALK: 2003-04: Looking Back

The end of a year is a time for review and reflection, a time to look back to how things were. And as one year gives way to next, it becomes to time to think ahead to what will be. In this series, we will do both look at the year that has been and look ahead to what the next has in store for us. I will take two different perspectives: one, a global view, and second, an India-centric view. [Before I begin, a big thank you for all those who wrote in to the request on my blog asking for suggestions your inputs have been extremely useful in helping me put this series together.]

2003 was a year which saw technology companies start looking to the future with hope. Technology spend in the key markets is starting to rise again. What we are seeing is a divergent track recovery: even though corporate spending is still largely flat with signs of an increase forthcoming, consumer spending on new technology for the digital home and self is on the upswing. More encouragingly, innovation at the startup and small company level continues to thrive, even though venture capital funding is still not easy to find at the early stage. Asia has become an engine of growth and cost reduction the economies of China and India are booming, and the process of outsourcing manufacturing and services to these countries is accelerating. The surprise has perhaps been the rapid rise of India in offshoring as companies globally look to wring out further costs from operations.

2003 was the year we had Dow 10K, Nasdaq 2K (almost) and the Sensex 5K again, as the stock markets anticipate a tech and general recovery. The year also saw the deeper penetration of networks from the social variety (in the form of social networking sites that connect us to each other, jobs and business opportunities) to the wireless kind (WiFi and cellular). Our gadgets are becoming better and more multi-faceted: the cellphone-PDA combo now can double as a digital camera, music system, gaming device, and computer running our favourite applications. The digitisation of industries, especially in entertainment continues witness the online music stores that are proliferating (and more interestingly, it is the computer companies like Apple, Dell, HP and Microsoft who are leading the charge), television is getting time-shifted via TiVo, and movies like the Matrix and Lord of the Rings series merge reality with compute-generated characters and graphics to create amazing sequences. Voice is flowing on IP networks, and as broadband proliferates, online gaming is immersing us in new worlds, especially in countries like South Korea.

2003 also saw some bottom-up technologies gain traction weblogs for publishing (powered by RSS for syndication), Linux support from governments and a ringing endorsement from Novell with its purchase of Suse and Suns misnamed Java Desktop System, wireless access points creating connectivity in public places, SMS for person-to-person communications, and social software in the form of wikis and weblogs helping harness tacit knowledge in organisations. The year also showed us the downside of some of the technologies we use as spam shot through the roof and viruses continued to do damage.

If 2002 was about picking up the pieces from the crash, 2003 was about laying the foundation for a new future. Starting tomorrow, I will offer my picks for the 10 technologies and trends that either showed promise, made the news and/or made a difference in 2003.

Tomorrow: Digital Life