Hardware vs Software

NYTimes looks more closely to Appl’s Steve Job’s initiatives:

Mr. Jobs has already received widespread credit for breaking the digital impasse between the recording industry and music consumers with Apple’s iTunes store of downloadable songs. But the sales success of the iPod player indicates he may be onto something even bigger for Apple.

Mr. Jobs’s next big thing is buttressed by mounting evidence of a post-PC era in which silicon, not software, will be king. That is likely to bring wrenching changes in the technology world, largely dominated by Microsoft for the last decade. Under Microsoft’s hegemony, hardware became a low-cost commodity. Now it may be software’s turn.

Richard Wallace, a columnist for Electronic Engineering Times, a trade publication, captured the shift in an article he wrote from the recent Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. “The irony is that while software gets the glory,” Mr. Wallace wrote, “it’s silicon that’s at the heart of the industry’s next darling: pervasive media.”

For Microsoft, the issue transcends online music. The foundation of Microsoft’s power and leverage in the computing industry is based almost entirely on a set of software sockets known as application programmers’ interfaces, or A.P.I.’s. It is those A.P.I.’s that other software publishers must adapt to in writing programs for use on Windows machines. By controlling the shape of the sockets, and what can fit into them, Microsoft has a powerful advantage against its competitors.

Now, with the new Apple-Hewlett alliance, Mr. Jobs finally has a QuickTime bundling arrangement. The program, which allows for the playing of video clips on a PC, will be a standard feature of every Hewlett-Packard computer. So will another Apple software technology, Rendezvous, which is an A.P.I. designed to let the computer identify and create links to any printer, camera, music player or other digital device without complicated configuration procedures on the user’s part.

Simply put, Mr. Jobs has managed to inject Apple’s DNA into the PC world, meaning that it will be increasingly easy for his company to offer PC users any kind of iPod-style device – whether for music or other media – the company may create in the future.

5 Ideas for 2004

[via Lawrence Lee] Good Experience offers five ideas to ponder over:

1. Organization is the hardest part of user experience work. How do you work within the organization to get the change made?

2. The big picture is the only picture. Many widely-used user experience methods ignore the big picture in favor of tiny, tactical details.

3. Experience is bigger than Web usability. The key here is to understand that what you do at work – whether you’re a marketer, designer, manager, usability practitioner, or anything else – concerns just a tiny piece of what experience actually is.

4. Blogs are just content management systems.

5. Managing one’s bits is an increasingly essential skill. We deal with more and more incoming bits every day – and not just spam mail. Bit literacy is the ability to manage it all and still be effective.

IBM’s Offshoring Plans

WSJ has managed to get some internal IBM documents which “show that it expects to save $168 million annually starting in 2006 by shifting several thousand high-paying programming jobs overseas.”

Among other things, the documents indicate that for internal IBM accounting purposes, a programmer in China with three to five years experience would cost about $12.50 an hour, including salary and benefits. A person familiar with IBM’s internal billing rates says that’s less than one-fourth of the $56-an-hour cost of a comparable U.S. employee, which also includes salary and benefits.

According to the documents, which also provide managers with detailed advice on how to talk about the moves and their effect, IBM plans to shift the jobs from various U.S. locations to China, India and Brazil, where wages for skilled programmers are substantially lower.

A chart of internal billing rates developed by IBM’s Chinese group in Shanghai shows how dramatic the labor savings can be. The chart doesn’t show actual wages, but instead reflects IBM’s internal system by which one unit bills another for the work it does.

Besides the low-level programmers billing at $12.50 an hour, the chart shows that a Chinese senior analyst or application-development manager with more than five years experience would be billed at $18 an hour. The person familiar with IBM’s operations said that person would be equivalent to a U.S. “Band 7” employee billed at about $66 an hour. And a Chinese project manager with seven years experience would be billed at $24 an hour, equivalent to a U.S. “Band 8” billed at about $81 hourly.

How I Use My Aggregator

Well, Jim McGee wrote this, but as it turns out, my reasons and approach are nearly identical in the way I use my Info Aggregator (Jim uses Radio‘s aggregator):

As to why I prefer reading in an aggregator over visiting weblogs directly, I see four reasons:

1. An aggregator substitutes one discipline for many. It brings information to me when there is information to be had. I don’t need to remember to cycle through a blogroll.
2. An aggregator makes more efficient use of my time by taking over the task of polling and collecting information for me.
3. Ideas come to me in pure form and on an equal footing. Moreover they show up in a consistently readable format. My aging eyes don’t tolerate small fonts or oddly-colored backgrounds well. While there may be design asthetics I am missing, it’s a price I am willing to pay.
4. I find the juxtaposition of ideas arriving in my aggregator stimulating. It promotes serendipitous connections I would not otherwise make.

My typical practice is to scan through my aggregator in several passes. In the first pass, I quickly look for items to delete. I use a pair of bookmarklets to toggle checkboxes on or off depending on my mood and how many items are backlogged in the aggregator. If there are lots of items (> 200 say) I toggle the check boxes all on which presumes I will be deleting most items. As I scan, I click off the checkbox for items I want to come back to. Bad titles and boring leads mean an item is likely to get axed. If I miss something good, there’s usually a high probability of someone in my subscriptions list bringing it back to my attention.

In the second pass, I still tend to focus on material to eliminate based on scanning the first few sentences or paragraphs. More stuff gets deleted.

When I get down to a few dozen or so posts, I start to read more carefully. Some items I post away to categories I maintain locally strictly for my own purposes. Backup brain kinds of things.

Finally, I’m down to items I want to think about and likely comment on or use as a launching pad for my own ideas. Those might well sit in my aggregator for several days to a week, sometimes longer depending on what else I’m up to.

Web Services and Distributed Objects

Dave Orchard writes:

One way that I think Web and Web services are different from distributed objects is that they make the data format on the wire (html, xml,..), the object references (URIs), the protocol messages (HTTP) and the description human readable. Well, maybe wsdl isn’t the most human readable. Distributed objects on the other hand make the description (idl) human readable and the wire format, object references, and protocol messages binary. Now that might be a sufficient reason. There are plenty of others, such as the late binding of the information content to the user, the ability to have high performance due to ease of inspecting the HTTP message method and URI to determine equivalence, etc.

But I think there’s another big and untouted reason: Extensibility. If you take a look at comparing the Web to distributed objects, the invocation mechanics are quite different.

TECH TALK: India.com 2.0: The Changing Digital Infrastructure

The digital infrastructure in India is undergoing a dramatic change, which may not be very obvious. This transformation will create opportunities for content and community portals and websites, and rekindle interest in Internet information services. But along with the change in the connectivity and access devices will also come the need for change in the content that users would like to access. In short, computing and communications technologies stand at the threshold of making the Internet a utility in India the question that needs to be discussed (later) is: how can the portals rise to the occasion?

There are three significant changes taking place in the connectivity infrastructure in India:

  • Availability of fixed-price, narrowband, always-on connections: Telcos, cable providers and Internet service providers are offering connectivity of upto 128 Kbps for less than Rs 1,000 a month. While still not broadband, this is a good start and a major change from the days of dial-up Internet access at Rs 35 per hour. Once a connection is always-on and there is no worry about running up big biils, usage of the Internet changes and it starts to become more of a utility in peoples lives.
  • Broadband connections from cybercafes: Sifys iWays and Reliances soon-to-be-launched cybercafes (as part of their Web Worlds) offer true broadband connectivity. This is starting to open up new applications like video gaming, video conferencing and VoIP. Over time, we are likely to see broadband connectivity available to businesses at reasonable price points (no more than Rs 2,000 per month).
  • Proliferation of Internet-enabled cellphones: While the computer still remains the primary mechanism by which users access the Internet, there are now cellphones which allow Internet access via CDMA and GPRS. Speeds are still slow, the screen size is quite limited and data entry is still a challenge, but at least the access is there.

    A few government decisions can go a long way in opening up the access infrastructure dramatically. Legalising Voice-over-IP, delicencing WiFi and eliminating (or even halving) duties on IT and telecom equipment can help create greater demand.

    This brings us to the access devices. What is needed is a family of access devices which has the affordable business model of phones (payment of less than Rs 1,000 upfront and Rs 500 per month) and the functionality, versatility and footprint of a computer. This is where thin clients costing Rs 5,000-7,000 need to come in this will bring the price point of a user device to the levels of a handset, enabling low-cost monthly rentals for the service provider to recover the cost of the device.

    An always-on, broadband access infrastructure and affordable access devices are two of the three legs that the Indian Internet infrastructure needs to be built on. The third is the availability of content, software and services which can attract users and make the Internet a key part of their lives. This is where visible innovation has stagnated, with the current art being the web browser, websites that we visit and search engines that we scour to get to the websites. What is needed is a New Information Platform.

    Tomorrow: The New Information Platform

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