PDA Docking Station from Synosphere

Brighthand writes about Synosphere which has just launched Blue Dock, a docking station to allow a handheld to function as a desktop computer:

Once a handheld has been placed in the Blue Dock, the user will be able to create, modify, and edit data on a full sized monitor using a full size keyboard and mouse. Users will have access to email, the Web, and network resources — including file servers, printers, and other shared workstations.

The dock includes two PS2 ports, an SVGA port, and an Ethernet port. Additional data storage is provided through an SD card slot.

The company expects to have it on the market during the fourth quarter of this year for about $250.

I have wondered about this often: get an old Palm for USD 30-40, build a docking station (question: can this be done real cheap – for USD 10-20 or so), and make it into a thin client running vnc. There are plenty of old Palms (and other PDAs) in the world to make this an interesting possibility.

Entrepreneurial Challenges

StartupJournal provides snapshots of five entrepreneurs who went through challenging times, sourced from a book “Lessons From The Edge”. The book “addresses all of the major challenges that entrepreneurs face, many of the stories provide insights about what their entrepreneurial experiences taught them about themselves and their personal growth.” A few questions which entrepreneurs need to think and answer:

  • Have you figured out your priorities in life? How much time do you save for yourself, your family and your community responsibilities?

  • Do you understand the stress that your choice to be an entrepreneur and a CEO creates for your family and loved ones?

  • Do you take “time out” to reflect on your business failures and edge experiences?

  • What have your business failures and edge experiences taught you about yourself, your behaviors, your strengths and weaknesses? Have you taken the time to learn from those experiences?

  • When you succeed, do you remember all the people who helped you succeed — and help them be successful?

    As co-author Jana Mthews puts it: “As entrepreneurs, we are constantly being tested. Sometimes we succeed; sometimes we fail. But it’s our ability to learn from our experiences that enables us to grow and develop as leaders of growth companies.”

  • Economist Survey on Risk

    Risk is inherent in every aspect of life and business. Writes The Economist:

    It is not strictly true to say that life has become more risky; instead, some risks have become smaller, others have shifted to different people, and new ones have sprung up to take their place. This survey will review some of these shifts in the burden of risk and explore an extraordinary phenomenon: that when people confront risk, whether they are running governments, businesses or their own affairs, they tend to mismanage it.

    Risk is different from uncertainty, which is unquantifiable. It is more of an educated gamble based on the odds. Taking such educated punts has become easier, thanks mostly to two factors.

    The first is information technology, which has made it easier for people to study many past risks in the hope of learning from them…The second factor that has made it easier to quantify risks is the growing use of markets.

    For all the progress in using such tools, perhaps the biggest obstacle to dealing effectively with risk remains human beings’ perceptions and misperceptions of it. People tend to get risk wrong in a variety of ways, often consistently. A growing awareness of this has been revolutionising economics. It has also been changing the way corporations, governments and citizens deal with the risks they face. This survey will argue that the largest gains will arise from coming to terms with this softer side of risk.

    A Broader View of Open-Source

    Tech Central Station has an article by James DeLong of the Center for the Study Digital Property at the Progress & Freedom Foundation:

    The term “open source” means, at its most fundamental, that the code is not secret but public, and thus available for scrutiny. However, the term has acquired some additional meanings. To be regarded as “Open Source” in the computer community, a program must also be available for modification and for unlimited redistribution. The keeper of the flame is the Open Source Initiative, which has criteria and certifies which of the many available software licenses qualify.

    Creations other than software could be produced by similar processes. Movement theoretician Yochai Benkler, in a Yale Law Journal article, renames the phenomenon “commons-based peer production,” and identifies a range of applications, from mapping Martian craters to producing ratings on Amazon and eBay. Benkler argues that peer production avoids the transaction costs inherent in both markets and hierarchies, and becomes an alternative “third model of production.”

    When it becomes absolutely unavoidable to discuss support, the open source theorists talk about “indirect appropriation,” whereby getting a reputation for solving a software problem might get you hired to solve a similar problem, or where high productivity gets you academic tenure. Or a software programmer writes proprietary works for an employer during the week while doing open source on Sundays. In the background is some economic activity that actually pays the bills while the creator cadges bits of time to engage in his hobby. Or, for the professionalized core, there is some economic entity willing to subsidize the enterprise for its own purposes.

    Even for software, the workability of this model is not a slam dunk, and in the software area some very big companies have strong reasons to support the open source movement, as they are indeed doing. IBM, HP, Sun, Dell, and others are putting in billions of dollars, and this is what keeps Linux afloat.

    There is nothing wrong with this; it is a sensible business strategy for these companies. But it is not a model that transfers to music, or books, or journalism, or movies, or pharmaceuticals or games, or practically any other form of intellectual endeavor.

    The Asian Dynamo

    Rediff has excerpts from an NK Singh (who is a Planning Commission member) speech sourced from Business Standard wherein he discusses the reasons behind the rapid growth of the Asian countries:

    Several key economic factors will drive the “Asian dynamo.” First, regional trade is on the rise and I expect this trend to continue over the coming years. Developing and transition countries in East Asia, in particular, have seen regional exports rise by 520 per cent since 1985, more than twice the growth rate of exports to the rest of the world. Half of East Asia’s exports now go to other Asian countries.

    While this trade is in some part consumer goods — as we would expect given the rising incomes of the large and growing middle class — trade in parts has been one of the fastest-growing shares of intra-regional trade. The fact that intra-regional exports of parts and components increased by more than 35 per cent over 1995-2001 suggests a growing integration of industrial production. Trade links between East Asia and South Asia are also rapidly deepening. Trade between India and China crossed the $5 billion mark for the first time this year, with $5.33 billion worth of bilateral trade recorded from January to September of this year. This marks a nearly 55 per cent increase over the same period last year. India’s exports to China, at $2.95 billion during this time period, were over 85 per cent higher than the corresponding period in 2002.

    Second, several countries in the region have important demographic advantages. While Japan and China’s societies are aging relatively quickly, United Nations Population Division projections show that India will have an increasing proportion of working age adults (15-59) in its population until at least 2020. The country is expected to have an additional 47 million people of working age (15-59) by then. The proportion of working age adults in the population is expected to be over 60 per cent for nearly the next five decades. Bangladesh and the Philippines, similarly, are projected to have a high ratio of working-age population to dependent youth and senior citizens. The relatively young labour force also has the important advantage of being freshly educated, thus more likely to be skilled in the most current technologies.

    Third, the process of globalisation and increasing market orientation of these societies is unleashing the entrepreneurial spirit and in that way driving growth. Small and medium enterprises are increasingly able to obtain financing, both domestically and internationally. Legal and institutional are providing greater protection for intellectual property rights. Infrastructure improvements have contributed to more efficient production processes. All of the changes are ongoing but, with the pent-up innovative ingenuity, every incremental change brings added growth enhancement.

    Finally, the “new Asia” dynamo is driven by comparatively rapid absorption of the latest technologies for infrastructure as well as in the manufacturing and service industries. “Technology leapfrog” is an important advantage of relatively under-developed infrastructure and production facilities. Mobile phones in China and India, for example, are rapidly creating greater connectivity between rural and urban areas, at much less capital cost than expanding traditional landlines. Cisco reports that businesses in Asia are rapidly adopting business-to-business software and systems integration technologies, leaping directly from more traditional personal relations to the technological frontier.

    These technological changes not only increase labour productivity in the directly affected industries, but can spill over to upstream suppliers. The adoption of modern manufacturing technology in the Indian automobile and defence industries, for example, has created pressure on the Indian machine tool industry to develop new products to meet their changing needs.

    The Asian dynamo is thus driven by a combination of economic and political factors. The region has important natural advantages in the sheer size of some of its countries’ labour forces and the geographical proximity of its most dynamic growth centres.

    IBM’s Makeover

    NYTimes writes about how IBM is becoming “less tech, more touch”:

    The moves [IBM’s CEO] Mr. [Sam] Palmisano has made since he became chief executive less than two years ago have been bold, even risky. And if successful, his strategy promises to redefine not only I.B.M., but also what it means to be a computer company – making it far more a side-by-side partner with businesses, helping them improve their marketing, planning, procurement and customer service, rather than merely a supplier of hardware and software.

    “The aim is to create a very deep connection between I.B.M. and its customers, and at that level it is a very powerful strategy,” said David B. Yoffie, a professor at the Harvard Business School. “But it’s making I.B.M. more like a service business with technology thrown in than a technology business.”

    With the addition of PwC Consulting, the big I.B.M. services unit is more focused on executive-level business consulting instead of traditional technology services, like managing data centers for corporate customers.

    This year, the 38,000 people in I.B.M.’s software group are being reorganized and retrained to focus on making and selling products tailored to the most common business problems of 12 major industries, including banking, insurance, automobiles, utilities, consumer packaged goods, telecommunications and life sciences.

    For I.B.M., the strategy also moves the center of gravity in its relationships with corporate customers further from its traditional mainstay, the mainframe, and closer to business consulting services.

    I.B.M. needs a new basis for securing and maintaining its relationships with big corporate customers, many of which spend hundreds of millions of dollars a year on I.B.M. offerings…Mr. Palmisano’s answer is to use the business consulting arm of I.B.M. Global Services to cement customer relationships. That, in turn, will pull in plenty of hardware and software sales – or so goes the thinking.

    The development and spread of Internet-based software standards in recent years has opened the door to greater efficiency and cost-cutting opportunities in computing. Software using these standards can be thought of as the geeky glue that allows proprietary systems to talk to one another, sharing data and workloads. It helps make corporate data centers more nimble and flexible, and it is a crucial technology behind I.B.M.’s new ability to offer corporate data processing as a pay-for-use service, much like an electric utility.

    That is the easier part of what I.B.M. calls its on-demand strategy, and all of its rivals – Microsoft, Hewlett-Packard, Sun Microsystems and others – are employing these Internet software standards to help corporate customers cut costs. But I.B.M. wants to go much further by trying to capture in software some of the things businesspeople actually do – like sifting and analyzing information – and automate it. This is where much of the I.B.M. research effort comes into play and involves sophisticated text analytics, modeling, simulation, mathematical optimization and the like. And for this to really pay off for I.B.M., the ideas and techniques developed for one customer have to be useful for an entire industry or several industries.

    We have to become the IBM for SMEs in Emerging Markets.

    Continue reading

    TECH TALK: Rethinking Search: A Brief History

    One of the most lucrative areas on the Internet is turning out to be Search. 2004 is going to an action-packed year for Search Google is going to do an IPO which could raise as much as USD 4 billion and value the company at between USD 12-15 billion, Yahoo is leveraging all its acquisitions and its content to try and get the better of Google, and Microsoft is readying its own search engine. How did Search become so powerful once again? And what are the opportunities in this space?

    Search went through three evolutions in the past decade. It started with Yahoos directory. Human editors classified websites into an ever-expanding hierarchy of categories. This was fine until the new additions were something that were manageable. But as the Web exploded with activity, it was no longer to easily find websites based on a brief description. This brought in the second phase of activity in Search sites like Altavista, Infoseek, Webcrawler and Excite which crawled the various websites and indexed the content in them, allowing full-text search of these pages. This still did not solve the problem of getting to the right page based on a few words the user entered in a text box. That is the world Google came into.

    By using PageRank technology which looked at the incoming links to a webpage to decide how popular it was, it helped in quite accurately identifying the pages that would be most relevant to the search phrases. It was Googles accuracy and its simple interface that helped it ride a popularity wave of its own. That was also the time when Search was almost given up by the other companies as a way to make money and its perceived importance for the others who had now graduated to being full-scale portals had diminished. Google filled the vacuum well, and by sticking to its core, became everyones favourite search engine.

    Around this time, peoples habits have also changed. Instead of surfing various sites, the preference is to do a search and then browse. Search, for all practical purposes, has become the window on the Web for us. Yahoo and Microsoft, among others, are realising that they cannot yield this first connection to Google, and are seeking to fight back with strategies of their own. Google isnt sitting idle either. Powered by its growing profits from the multitude of small advertisers who buy the text ads linked with specific keywords, it is also expanding the things that can be down in its search box, as well as spreading its wings to news, images, and shopping.

    All in all, a battle royale is underway in the world of Search. In a sense, we are back to square one it was our desire for information from across the world that made the earlier generations of search engine the most visited sites in the first place. Now, once again, search is in favour with users and advertisers. And yet, as Jeff Bezos likes to say, we are on Day One of the Internet Era. The game has just begun.

    Search is good, but not good enough especially from the vantage point of some of the non-US markets like India. For example, it is still hard to use search to find the phone number of a local hotel or business. In the coming articles, we will explore what ideas could be used for constructing the next-generation of search engines from the vantage point of users in India.

    Tomorrow: What Others Say