Open-Source – in Asia, and Theory

Business Week writes about Asia’s love affair with Linux and other open-source software, driven by cost, adaptability, and security concerns :

Discontent with Windows — and enthusiasm for Linux — are increasingly common in Asia these days. Although Microsoft still rules the desktop and racks up healthy server operating-system sales, open-source software is winning fans across the region. Government officials see Linux as a means of cutting costs — systems using it run as much as 70% cheaper than Windows — and priming their local software industries. China, Japan, and South Korea, for instance, are working to develop an operating system more attuned to their character-based languages that will likely be modeled after Linux. And policymakers in other countries, especially Thailand and India, are backing Linux development. “Promotion of Linux is very important,” says Li Wuqiang, a deputy director at China’s Science & Technology Ministry. “Government should give it a hard push.”

Linux is getting a boost as governments start to crack down on piracy and look for ways to make technology more accessible to the masses. The number of Linux servers in Asia will grow some 30% annually through 2008, to 10.5% of the total market, from 1% today, estimates researcher IDC.

The operating system is making inroads in domains well beyond servers. Some Chinese PC manufacturers are now selling machines with Linux already installed. And companies including Korean giant Samsung Electronics Co. and Shanghai startup E28 have recently unveiled cell phones that use the operating system. One reason: Programmers can more easily adapt Linux-based phones to consumers’ needs, says Roger Kung, CEO and founder of E28. Linux is “the best choice.”

News.com has an interview with “Walt Scacchi, a senior research scientist at the University of California at Irvine’s Institute for Software Research, [who] has been looking at open-source projects from an analytical perspective, studying the open-source model in an ongoing, 10-year project.” His comments:

One thing we find with respect to participation is that in a couple of other surveys, 60 percent of open-source software developers who show up as core contributors tend to be contributors to two to 10 other projects. Once you’ve established a reputation of expertise in a certain area, you can take that to another project, or conversely, people seek out your expertise, because you know how to do certain kinds of things. The overall dynamic that starts to emerge is that there’s a social mechanism for the creation of critical mass that lets these projects coalesce and come together, so systems can grow and evolve at rates that far exceed what’s predicted by good software practice. Software engineering predicts that projects grow by the inverse square law, meaning that initial growth is fast. It then slows down, and then, with a project shift, you get steady growth.

But in the more successful open-source projects, you get a hockey stick (curved line) on your graph–a longer period of slow growth, then critical mass starts to kick in, and the growth curve starts to shoot up in a greater-than-linear growth rate.

There’s an open-source community in architecture, working in developed countries, of people who will contribute their designs in developing or emerging countries, where hiring an architect to do something is prohibitively expensive. There’s open-source education [like at MIT].

That’s at the college level, but also in grade schools and high schools globally. People in the United States and Europe are contributing content for math and science classes for their own countries and developing countries, where purchasing textbooks is prohibitively expensive. In the visual-arts community, there’s a movement to explore what it means to do works of art for sharing, or building upon works of art of other people. People are breaking away from the tradition of the individual artist, saying there’s another way to build upon the work of others.

And in the area of government, a number of European and Third World countries are looking to adopt open-source systems for reasons of perceived cost or low cost, but at the same time they bring in the open-source systems, they also embrace the ideology of openness, which in turn may be a revitalization of what it means to be an open, democratic nation or government. So the process becomes open source so that citizens can better understand how their governments work and how a corporate provider of information technology is serving its own interest in selling systems to its government or if it’s helping the people.

Intel and Microsoft in the Living Room

WSJ writes about their efforts to position themselves the PC as an entertainment hub, and the battle ahead with the TV manufacturers:

The two giants will detail their latest assault at this week’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. There they plan to discuss a series of products that they say will make it easier to use PCs to organize movies, music and television shows while shuttling that media around the home. The announcements should also serve as a stepping stone in the two companies’ decade-long quest to embed Microsoft software and Intel microchips directly into televisions.

Traditional makers of everything from stereos to DVD players are fighting to defend their turf. What they fear most is the rise of a single PC, rather than gadgets designed by these companies, as the hub for controlling how consumers view photos, channel-surf or listen to music.

These companies believe their own devices will be easier and more enjoyable to use than the PC, which they view as a business tool that is prone to suffer from bugs, viruses and crashes.

The PC leaders are gaining momentum from the rapid transformation of music, photographs and movies into digital formats, which consumers are using computers to manage and manipulate. Hardware makers have already developed dozens of products to help transfer digital media from PCs to TVs and other devices around the home, often using wireless networks. The trend creates a new opportunity for versions of Microsoft Windows to become a navigation tool on TV screens.

A sidebar details the specific efforts made by the two companies:

Media Center PCs: Computers, such as Gateway’s 610, that can play and record TV programming and let consumers manage music, photos and videos with a remote control.

Wireless networking: New technology helps transfer digital content from PCs to TVs and other devices in the living room.

TV chips: Intel is introducing its first chips for making large-screen TVs that use rear-projection technology.

Windows media: Microsoft is promoting a format for compressing high-definition video images for use in DVDs, PCs and other products.

Content protection: Intel is trying to convince movie studios and other media companies to adopt a technology for preventing unauthorized copying of digital images.

Portable media centers: Forthcoming gadgets based on a version of Microsoft Windows that can display digital photos and videos as well as play music.

The promised world of convergence is finally coming, and both Intel and Microsoft are in search of new markets.

Tim O’Reilly’s 2004 Wish List

As always, Tim O’Reilly provides excellent food for thought for software developers:

I wish that Nat Friedman (of Novell/Ximian) would finish up Dashboard for Linux, and that everyone from Apple to Microsoft Longhorn would copy his ideas, since Dashboard is one of the smartest user-centric innovations I’ve seen in a long time. (Dashboard instruments applications for data sharing, so that when I’m in an app, my dashboard automatically shows me related data from other apps, so that when I’m reading someone’s email, their other contact info is automatically retrieved from my address book, any recent search results (including photos of them) are displayed, and in general, I see as much appropriate context as my dashboard can find.)

I wish that the various web services data vendors (including Amazon, Google, EBay, Salesforce.com, and many others) would realize that they comprise the building blocks of a future “internet operating system”, and act accordingly, engaging with each other to interoperate. It seems to me that the original Unix/Linux architecture, and the architecture of the internet, are based on a model of “small pieces loosely joined” (to quote David Weinberger). Web services can also operate on this model.

I wish that Adobe, Macromedia, and other leading PC software vendors would port their products to Linux, since we’re just about at a tipping point for Linux on the desktop…Linux application market share is cheap right now, so that makes it a great time to enter the market.

Rael Dornfest, author of Google Hacks and the mobilewhack weblog adds: “I’d like to see consumer mobile devices–palmtops, hiptops, and handsets–scriptable. It was scripting that drove the Web, taking it from a static online catalogue of content to an operating system. Gaining simpler programmatic access to the contacts, calendars, and other assorted user-data; bluetooth, messaging, image capture and minipulation on the phone will open up the mobile to the people prototyping the next generation of applications.” I agree completely with Rael.

Personal Information Management

Richard MacManus wants a tool that individualises the Web. He looks at a 1994 tool called PAINT and puts in today’s context. From the 1994 vision for PAINT: “The increasing complexity of navigating the Internet is becoming one of the fundamental obstacles to its effective use. This is due to the nature of the Internet, principally, a disorganized collection of both sites and site documents whose exponential growth rate rapidly is outstripping any user’s ability to master it. There are two ways to deal with this complexity: reorganize the structure of the Internet or give each user the ability to organize an individual perspective of the Internet. Although the former would produce more global benefit, the latter is both easier to accomplish and potentially more beneficial to any individual or group of users.”

Multi-function Handhelds

[via Smart Mobs] Investor’s Business Daily writes how the smartphones, which combine handheld computers and mobile phones, will have a breakout year in 2004:

“The big story (in 2003 was) that people finally started to get smart phones right,” said Peter Rojas, editor of Gizmodo, which bills itself as the gadgets Weblog. “They still have a long way to go. But the first smart phones that you’d actually want to use came out (in 2003).”

Those devices include PalmOne Inc.’s (PLMO) Treo 600 and smart phones using Microsoft Corp.’s (MSFT) Windows Mobile software, including Motorola Inc.’s (MOT) MPX 200 and Samsung Electronics Co.’s i600.

Such combination cell phone-personal digital assistants are “going to be hot items” in 2004, said Tim Bajarin, president of consulting firm Creative Strategies Inc. of Campbell, Calif.

Mobile business users will form the initial customer base for smart phones, because the devices help with communications and productivity, he says.

About 8.7 million converged devices were sold worldwide last year, IDC says. That number should reach 20.7 million in 2004, it says. That’s a much faster pace than mobile phones. IDC sees 595 million cell phone sales this year, up from 510 million in 2003.

What’s exciting gadget buyers the most? Camera phones.

Social Networking Future

There’s been an interesting discussion brewing on social networking and its future.

Jeremy Zawodny: “Get yourself out of the mind set of social network software for the sake of social network software and start thinking about how adding a social networking component to existing systems could improve them…That’s where the future of systems like Friendster, LinkedIn, Tribe and all those other systems lie. Right now they’re just figuring out the platform. The metadata to capture. The basic functionality on the back-end. The current search and browse interfaces suck, but it doesn’t matter. The real value of this stuff comes from integrating it with services like Amazon.com or Google or your favorite on-line movie tickets site. Like many things on-line, it will move from novelty to utility.”

Richard Stokes adds: “Social software has an inherent network externality. That is, much like Microsoft Office or email, it is only valuable to the extent that other people are using it. The “value-add” follows a typical S-curve model, that is, there is some critical mass of users that must be surpassed before the application is compelling to the masses…The average person will receive value from a software network only if a sufficient number of other people participate. The lack of a critical mass of participants acts as a barrier towards achieving that critical mass. Chicken and egg syndrome…I have hundreds of contacts, but the value I derive from introducing people far exceeds any advantage I would gain by entering them into a system somewhere. Moreover, the value I derive from my hard-earned network is sacrified for the ‘good’ of the system. If anyone, or even just my associates can find out everyone who I know and everything I know about them, I am no longer indispensible. What would possess me to give away my personal ‘competitive advantage’?”

An earlier post by Om Malik:

The question I have is: why should I share my network of contacts with these commercial entities. They are like BlogSpot that does nothing for my brand equity and in many ways chews me out after making the network connections. Thus what I want is a MoveableType of social networking. Blogs took off because it was about one person – me. My social networks should be of my making for me. Lets figure out a way to cut out the middlemen.

A special application, which allows me to set up my own private Tribe.net. As these private tribes grow, I want the ability to exchange link-ups between tribes of my choosing through a format which is similar to say RSS or the XML-RPC. (Smart engineers can figure this out!) This application should be easily downloadable, and easy to install. The developer can charge for it – I would easily fork over $50 – will maintain the sanctity of my network, will insure the purity of the contacts, and if I have something to sell, share or offer, I should profit from it, not some Sand Hill Road maharajah or some dot-commer who is getting a second chance.

And finally, some interesting social software ideas:
– Colloquial mapping: Yahoo Maps + Slashdot
– Geographical opinion systems: Epinions + Friendster
– Collaborative consumed media: Friendster + ??? (some sort of media management service)
– Reputation management ideas: Multi-variate reputation management

TECH TALK: Good Books: Mountains Beyond Mountains

I remember reading Tracy Kidders A Soul of a New Machine more than 10 years ago, while I was working in the US. The book made a lasting impact it brought alive the romance of doing something different, something innovative, something which can change the world. So, when I first read about Tracy Kidders most recent book, Mountains Beyond Mountains, I was a tad disappointed to note that it was about a doctor in Haiti. I was hoping for something more exciting. Yet, the authors reputation got the better of me, and I bought the book recently. Rarely have I been so wrong in judging a book by its cover.

Beyond mountains there are mountains is a Haitian proverb. It means that as you solve one problem, another problem presents itself. Solve that, and theres another one waiting. In many ways, this is how my life has been for the past 18 or so months as we have been trying to tackle the problem of making affordable computing solutions. It was just the tonic I needed to immerse myself in reading the book.

It is one of the most remarkable stories I have read. It is about the quest of Dr Paul Farmer, a man who would cure the world. From the introduction on the books jacket:

At the center of Mountains Beyond Mountains stands Paul Farmer. Doctor, Harvard professor, renowned infectious-disease specialist, anthropologist, the recipient of a MacArthur genius grant, world-class Robin Hood, Farmer was brought up in a bus and on a boat, and in medical school found his lifes calling: to diagnose and cure infectious diseases and to bring the lifesaving tools of modern medicine to those who need them most. This magnificent book shows how radical change can be fostered in situations that seem insurmountable, and it also shows how a meaningful life can be created, as Farmerbrilliant, charismatic, charming, both a leader in international health and a doctor who finds time to make house calls in Boston and the mountains of Haitiblasts through convention to get results.

Mountains Beyond Mountains takes us from Harvard to Haiti, Peru, Cuba, and Russia as Farmer changes minds and practices through his dedication to the philosophy that “the only real nation is humanity” – a philosophy that is embodied in the small public charity he founded, Partners In Health. He enlists the help of the Gates Foundation, George Soros, the U.N.s World Health Organization, and others in his quest to cure the world.

Adds the Publishers Weekly: Farmer founded Zanmi Lasante (Creole for Partners in Health), a nongovernmental organization that is the only health-care provider for hundreds of thousands of peasant farmers in the Plateau Central. He did this while juggling work in Haiti and study at the Harvard Medical School During his work in Haiti, Farmer pioneered a community-based treatment method for patients with tuberculosis that, Kidder explains, has had better clinical outcomes than those in U.S. inner citiesKidder provides a sympathetic account of Farmer’s early life, from his idiosyncratic family to his early days in Haiti. Kidder also recounts his time with Farmer as he travels to Moscow; Lima, Peru; Boston; and other cities where Farmer relentlessly seeks funding and educates people about the hard conditions in Haiti. Throughout, Kidder captures the almost saintly effect Farmer has on those whom he treats.

Tomorrow: Mountains Beyond Mountains (continued)

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