Why Skype is No Different

Om Malik has an article by Aswath Rao providing an alternate view of Skype, the P2P VoIP company: “Skype shares the same functional architecture with other VoIP providers. It shares the same business plan and outlook. But they have artificially cloaked it in a proprietary system. I guess this is their economic moat to use a Buffett term. From a consumer point of view, the beauty of VoIP is that there is no moat and current technology is sufficient to realize direct IP Communications that does not require any intermediation.”

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Friedman’s New World

Thomas Friedman writes about what he’d like to wake up and read in the morning:

I want to wake up and read that President Bush has decided to offer a real alternative to the stalled Kyoto Protocol to reduce global warming. I want to wake up and read that 10,000 Palestinian mothers marched on Hamas headquarters to demand that their sons and daughters never again be recruited for suicide bombings. I want to wake up and read that Crown Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia invited Ariel Sharon to his home in Riyadh to personally hand him the Abdullah peace plan and Mr. Sharon responded by freezing Israeli settlements as a good-will gesture.

I want to wake up and read that General Motors has decided it will no longer make gas-guzzling Hummers and President Bush has decided to replace his limousine with an armor-plated Toyota Prius, a hybrid car that gets over 40 miles to the gallon.

I want to wake up and read that Dick Cheney has apologized to the U.N. and all our allies for being wrong about W.M.D. in Iraq, but then appealed to our allies to join with the U.S. in an even more important project helping Iraqis build some kind of democratic framework. I want to wake up and read that Tom DeLay called for a tax hike on the rich in order to save Social Security and Medicare for the next generation and to finance all our underfunded education programs.

I want to wake up and read that Justice Antonin Scalia has recused himself from ruling on the case involving Mr. Cheney’s energy task force when it comes before the Supreme Court not because Mr. Scalia did anything illegal in duck hunting with the V.P., but because our Supreme Court is so sacred, so vital to what makes our society special its rule of law that he wouldn’t want to do anything that might have even a whiff of impropriety.

I want to wake up and read that Mr. Bush has announced a Manhattan Project to develop renewable energies that will end America’s addiction to crude oil by 2010. I want to wake up and read that Mel Gibson just announced that his next film will be called “Moses” and all the profits will be donated to the Holocaust Museum.

Most of all, I want to wake up and read that John Kerry just asked John McCain to be his vice president, because if Mr. Kerry wins he intends not to waste his four years avoiding America’s hardest problems health care, deficits, energy, education but to tackle them, and that can only be done with a bipartisan spirit and bipartisan team.

What would you like to wake up and read?

X1 for Hard Disk Search

Walter Mossberg writes:

It’s often easier to search the vast reaches of the Web than to quickly and accurately search your own stored e-mail. This is because the most important e-mail program in use today, Microsoft’s Outlook, really stinks at searching. If you have a sizable amount of stored e-mail, searching within Outlook e-mail is painfully slow, and often inaccurate.

To address this problem, a number of companies have developed add-on programs that search Outlook e-mail. I’ve been testing a new entry in this category, a $99 product for Windows users called X1. This search product doesn’t just do a great job of finding things in Outlook e-mail. It also can rapidly search for any word within e-mail attachments and Outlook contacts.

But that’s not all. X1 also searches for words within e-mail in Outlook Express and the Netscape and Eudora e-mail programs. And it can rapidly search for terms in most types of files you have stored on your hard disk outside of your e-mail. These include word-processor documents, spreadsheets, slide presentations, graphics, database files and more.

X1 handles these file searches much faster and better than the built-in search feature of Windows XP, which I find to be slow and inaccurate, and which can’t search within e-mails.

X1 is a very valuable tool for rapidly unlocking all the precious information on your hard disk, and especially in Outlook e-mail.

HP Revvs Up

Barron’s writes on HP’s progress two years after it merged with Compaq:

CEO Carly Fiorina was only warming up. She went on to deliver a whopping $3.5 billion in promised cost-savings — and a year ahead of schedule. Lately she has started to boost the performance of two key units that have been holding back the technology giant: personal computers and corporate computing systems. Along the way, H-P has amassed a surprisingly large, $6.5 billion cash horde.

Fiorina is making two major pushes. She is trying to take advantage of H-P’s revered brand and potent retail channels in anticipation of the digital home — where the flat-panel TV in the family room, for instance, will routinely be linked to the PC in the den. In efforts aptly named Big Bang I and II, H-P launched more than 150 consumer products over the past two years, ranging from digital cameras to sleek personal digital assistants.

In addition, Fiorina hopes to use H-P’s newfound scale to sell innovative, customized products and services to big corporations. A new partnership with Starbucks, for example, allows customers to burn compact discs in their stores using H-P devices for a fee. H-P consultants worked with Starbucks to create this setup, using H-P servers, storage gear and more.

“The history of every industry, including technology, demonstrates that companies that can make markets and lead markets are the most successful,” Fiorina says. It has yet to be seen whether H-P has what it takes to truly lead all of its markets.

I was among those who was skeptical about HP’s future after the merger. Nice to be proved wrong!

Blogging and Calendaring

Michael Sippey has an interesting experiment with his Timeline (example):

A couple of years ago I started keeping simple timelines — “major” personal events over the course of a year, to make it easier to scan a period of time without being bogged down in the dozens of weekly appointments that clog the day-to-day calendar.

I’m in the messaging business. Focused — today — on email. But lately I’ve been interested in how messages (of all stripes) could more effectively be integrated into where we best process specific types of information. Your average inbox is not great at organizing time-oriented material, especially reminders about events that will take place in the future — calendars are obviously better at that. And with iCal (the format, not the app), it becomes reasonably brainless to publish individual events and/or a stream of events out to users. Case in point: it was probably less than one day of effort for the engineers at Expedia to add a downloadable calendar event to your online travel itinerary. But the fact that I can automagically pop my flight info into Outlook is at the top of my list of reasons why I’m loyal to Expedia.

So, anyway. Sippey.com/timeline is the result of some noodling on those two issues. A single page view of a year. Which is also rendered in calendar form, and made available for layering on top of your calendar. It’s hindsight publishing, of course (this did happen on this day, instead of this is going to happen on this day). But calendars are not only planning tools, they’re rememberance agents. And layering information like major news stories, weather (a la Jerry’s story about his old DayPlanner habits), sports scores and even personal bloggish notations could be an interesting use of the iCal format.

This is a small part of an idea Ramesh Jain has talked about – the EventWeb.

Visual Programming

Phil Windley points to a post by Sean McGrath, who says: “Visual programming is largely pointless as long as the predominant programming paradigm remains imperative logic. Now, switch to a data flow oriented, SOA world and visual programming makes a lot more sense in my opinion. Picture logistics infrastructures. Picture aviation hubs. Picture model railways. Now imagine business folk constructing visual models of how their data flows through messaging pipes and hubs and flows through data transforming ‘services’…. Once we switch paradigm from algorithm-centric (programmer friendly) to data-centric (business friendly), we can start to talk the same language and – irony of ironies – this type of “talking” is much easier to visualize.”

Adds Phil: “Sean McGrath has a tough time seeing the case for visual programming languages in a predominantly imperative programming model. I think he’s on the mark. But Sean thinks SOA will change this. This is already true, to some extent. Several of the Web services intermediary products I’ve reviewed recently use visual prgramming tools, notably Grand Central Communications and CommerceOne’s Conductor.”

We want to create a visual programming environment for business process with our Visual Biz-ic, which is currently under development.

TECH TALK: As India Develops: ICT

Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) have been the dominant factor for the productivity growth in the developed markets. The problem with the current ICT is their cost the dollar-denominated pricing makes it affordable to only a small segment of the business and consumer segment in India. While competition has ensured that talk on cellphones is now among the cheapest in India, the same is not the case in computing given that two virtual monopolies (Intel and Microsoft) control the two most critical components.

For India to develop, there is an increasing emphasis on the need to build out the physical infrastructure roads, ports, airports, power and the like. But there is the need for a parallel digital infrastructure high-speed networks, access terminals, software and content. While the telecom carriers are now building out the high-speed networks, not enough attention has been paid in the other areas. This needs to change.

What India needs is an affordable computing and communications platform, one that dramatically brings down the cost without compromising on the performance or utility. Luckily, many of the components are now coming together to make this happen. What is needed is for us to adopt these innovations to build the equivalent of tech utilities which make commputing (as Om Malik put it) a reality for the next markets.

The connectivity front is an easier problem to address, thanks to competition, the tens of thousands of optical fibre that have been laid across India, and technologies like WLL, DSL and WiFi which can help bridge the last mile. The challenge lies on the computing front.

Consider India and its present installed base of 10 million computers. In the next 12 months, that figure is expected to rise by about 4.5 million. But it is still not good enough. India needs a much faster adoption of computing technology. There is a potential for 100 million computers in the next few years 3 million SMEs need an average of 10 computers each (30 million), 40 million Indian homes need one each (40 million), 1 million Indian schools need 10 each (10 million), 100,000 colleges need 100 each (10 million), and rural areas and the government need 5 million each. These are the next markets for computing.

While it is tantalising to think of the cellphone as the computer (or perhaps commputer), in reality, portability and mobility is a requirement for only a small segment of the markets. The display size and the limited data entry capabilities of the cellphone make it more useful as a last-mile, always-on bridge rather than the primary computational device. We still need the desktop computer but at a fraction of todays price points. In some segments, we can consider using the TV as a display, but a refurbished monitor costs about the same and gives a much better resolution.

In short, what India needs is a next-generation computing platform for todays non-consumers, which makes affordability as its primary objective, and at the same time leverages the plethora of software and content that is already available. Think thin clients, server-centric computing and open-source software.

Tomorrow: ICT (Part 2)

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