Sun-Microsoft Deal

The recent Sun-Microsoft detente (with Microsoft paying Sun USD 1.95 billion, Sun agreeing to drop all legal cases, and the two agreeing to share some technology) was a surprise. For Microsoft, the money is irrelevant, considering they make that much in less than 2 months. For Sun, which also announced layoffs and a bad quarter the same day, the money could help. As James Robertson puts it: “This is easily played as a win-win, but what it amounts to is the best that Sun could get from a really, really bad situation.” Adds Dan Gillmor: “The elephant in the room Friday, when Sun Microsystems and Microsoft announced their fairly stunning detente, was commoditization — the pressure from widely available, low-cost alternatives.”

Kinja

Kinja finally launched last week. Wrote Nick Denton, whose company (Gawker Media) is behind Kinja:

Kinja — a guide to weblogs — springs from a simple idea. Weblogs may be the most interesting phenomenon in media in decades, but hold the enthusiasm: they’ve reached only a tiny minority of the internet audience. About nine in ten US internet users have never even visited a blog.

It’s not for a lack of content that weblogs don’t yet have a mass audience. For every interest, there are thousands of engaging sites. They’re just hard to find, and then hard to remember.

If weblogs are to realize their potential, they need to reach beyond the pioneering communities of technologists and amateur political pundits.

So where does Kinja come in? Kinja allows even casual internet users to browse topics, explore the latest weblog writing, and then choose favorite authors to track. A personal Kinja digest contains excerpts from a user’s favorites, whether they’re friends who blog, or experts on a particular topic. Kinja is a blog of blogs.

Because Kinja is an RSS reader for people who don’t know what RSS is, who don’t know what a reader is, for that matter, or don’t care. A Kinja digest looks much like a weblog, with excerpts arranged in reverse chronological order…We’ve put ease of use above all else, even at the expense of the tools that power users hanker for.

Will it take off? Who knows? Kinja will not appeal immediately to the power users, and they’re the web’s most influential critics. The wider potential audience: that’s an article of our faith in weblogs, rather than the product of any research.

But someone — whether it’s Kinja, Bloglines or Yahoo — should at least test the proposition. Weblog publishing allowed frustrated writers to express themselves. Some of the most prolific weblog writers, have been able to attract a following, but most weblogs remain undiscovered. Kinja will make it that little bit easier for interesting weblog writers, and their potential fans, to connect.

An interesting hypothesis. I was looking forward to the launch of Kinja because (a) it was from Nick Denton (b) there had been quite some buzz surrounding it for the past year. My opinion: I am disappointed. Agreed that its not for people like me. Nevertheless, if this is what comes out after a year of work from some of the best minds…well! [A review by Suw Charman which echoes much of my thinking.]

I think there is a lot more the Kinja team can do – especially on the backend analytics to make blogs easier to find. More than topics, its the blogger that is important – I like to read people and their views.

Broadband Marxism

Fast Company has a link to an article in Foreign Policy which states that “bridging the digital divide will require poor nations to reverse the privatization of their telecommunications networks.”

Politicians and economists in developing countries searching for new technologies to create jobs and spur economic growth need look no further than their desks. The most vital technology for sparking development is a familiar and unglamorous one: the telephone. In many poor nations, telephone service is available only in large citiesat a price few can afford and the more widely available mobile phone service remains expensive. As a result, at least 1.5 million villages in poor nations lack basic telephone service. Guatemala has just 65 telephones for every 1,000 people; Pakistan, 23; Nigeria, 5; and Burma, 4. By comparison, the United States has 667 telephones per 1,000 people. Manhattan alone boasts more telephone lines than all of Africa.

During the 1990s economic boom, many developing nations invested in laying fiber-optic lines, building satellite relay stations, and connecting to transoceanic cablethe high-capacity backbone elements of telephone networks that transport data. So why does the 128-year-old telephone remain out of reach for more than 3 billion people? In part, because the cost of bridging the last mile from national network to local customer vastly exceeds potential returns in countries such as Colombia, where annual per capita spending on telecommunications is just $231 (in the United States, its $2,924).

Two new technologies offer a potentially quick solution: wireless-fidelity networks (Wi-Fi) and voice calling over the Internet (VoIP). Wi-Fi uses small, low-power antennas to carry voice and data communications between a backbone and users at schools, businesses, and households, all without laying a single wire, greatly reducing the cost of traversing the last mile. Laying land lines can cost up to $300 per foot. Wi-Fi hardware is fitted to existing structures for about $10,000 per base stationa reasonable sum, considering that one Wi-Fi station can provide access to thousands of residences within two miles and that the antennas that attach to customers homes cost less than $100.

Together, Wi-Fi and VoIP can make telephone service affordable and accessible in poor countries. But for developing nations to benefit, their governments must rethink who owns the telecommunications networks. Put simply, its a bad idea to have a monopoly, whether government or private, both control the network backbone and provide retail services to consumers. Such arrangements lead to higher prices and less competitive services.

Developing countries can break such strangleholds by renationalizing their network backbones, liberating them from the retail business of servicing consumers. Although state monopolies provided infamously poor service, running a network core is easier than providing retail services. State-owned network backbones can operate on a non-profit basis, providing access to private companies that compete to service local customers in villages and towns. Its not that the ordinary bias favoring private ownership and free markets is misguided. Nor are telecommunications networks too critical a public service to be left to free markets. Rather, networks in developing countries have never been subject to real competition. Ironically, a publicly owned backbone would level the playing field and increase competition among retail providers, leading to innovative services at lower prices.

One model for success can be found in Utah, where authorities in Salt Lake City and 17 surrounding towns have formed the Utah Telecommunications Open Infrastructure Agency (utopia), building a high-speed network for 250,000 households and 35,000 businesses. The government owns the backbone, but does not sell Internet or VoIP service directly to customers. Instead, utopia is open to anyone wishing to sell broadband service.

Can the same model work in the developing world, where money and accountability are more elusive? Yes, for two reasons. First, Wi-Fi and VoIP flip the traditional telecommunications model on its head. The network backbone has only one objective (delivering data via a small set of universal procedures), leaving governments with a simpler job. Delivering local service is harder. Traditional telecommunications models are the opposite: The telephone is simple; the circuit-switched network is complex. And while a private monopolist has every incentive to charge an exorbitant price and increase profits at the expense of consumers, a public monopoly lacks that impulse. Nonetheless, to ensure that consumers benefit, an independent, nonprofit organization could jointly administer the backbone network with a government agency. To increase efficiency, the daily operations of the backbone could be leased to a private entity.

Such renationalization of network backbones would be expensive for developing countries, but the costs are not insurmountable. Governments could buy back network backbones using long-term debt funded by revenues flowing from the operating lease. A properly structured public debt issuance would assuage foreign investors fears of a broader nationalization campaign.

In developing countries, telecommunications lead to more jobs, improved health care, and higher levels of education. The renationalization of telecommunications backbones is analogous to the state-funded building of roads. Roads and highways increase a nations wealth by enabling commerce. In poor nations, the same can be true of the information superhighway, if politicians choose technology over ideology.

An interesting point – what Chris Sprigman is basically stating that telecom is a public good, and therefore should be done by the government. Maybe Atanu will have some thoughts on this, considering his PhD was on the universal service obligation of Indian telecom companies.

UPDATE: I think I went a little too far in calling telecom a public good. Atanu corrected me in his comment, and I just received an email from Chris (the co- author of the article):

Rajesh — With respect to your post on “Broadband Marxism”, the article Pete Lurie and I wrote in Foreign Policy last month, I want to emphasize that it is *not* our argument that telcom generally is a public good and therefore should be provided by the government. Rather, we argue that certain elements of a digital network — namely the network backbone — have strong public good characteristics and should therefore be provided on a non-discriminatory basis to firms that can compete to offer services on the “edge” of the network. The best way to do this will often be for government or some public-private partnership to own the network backbone and lease it out, non-discriminatorily and at a rate that is designed to allow the central network to recover its long-term average cost. This is an efficient ownership structure for a networks whose elements (the core vs. the edges) have radically different economics.

Sorry about the mistaken interpretation based on my limited knowledge of economics!

On a slightly different note, George Gilder spoke on broadband and related topics at WTF. “Just got back from Korea. No ponzi scheme, fiber gluts, bubble. Basic thing that happened was US launched BB revolution but didnt consumate because of regulatory and monetary mistakes. Korea has 40x the bandwidth per capita as US. Accomplished this in 3 years. 75% penetration of homes with real broadband (8mbit/sec+). Most DSL with rapid VDSL deployment. Dribbleware in the US. The whole economy changes. $250bn transaction on Internet, 1/3 of their economy.” [Fast Company has more.]

RISC and Deeshaa

Following a Business World interview with Vinod Khosla which also mentioned RISC, Atanu Dey has an update on our work:

Where we are with regards to RISC: fundamentally, it has to be admitted that implementing RISC requires at least 1) Deep understanding 2) Deep commitment 3) Deep pockets

I see the first bit the biggest hurdle. Take for instance the PURA model. President APJ Kalam has commitment and the influence to motivate deep pockets. But I feel that the PURA model does not reflect reality in some basic aspects. I have done a brief note comparing RISC and PURA. Rajesh discussed the matter with Khosla last month in California and Khosla said that he would forward the note to Kalam. Khosla told me that during his recent visit to India, he had spoken to President Kalam about RISC and also to the chief ministers of AP and Karnataka.

Currently, we are working on establishing partnerships with other entities interested in tapping the potentially enormous resources that lie under-utilized in India. The private sector has the opportunity to not just do extremely well by addressing rural India, but also do a great deal of good.

Deeshaa Ventures does not have the immensely deep pockets required for transforming India but does have understanding and commitment by the tons. I am confident that we are at the cusp of a radical tranformation of India — what is required primarily is the vision and the hard work that will transform the vision into reality.

A few points mentioned by Khosla on microfinance:

Microfinance is simply applying the principles of free markets and capitalism to the poorest people. That is what is interesting. It is more about the economic system of capitalism and how to enable it for people who have been outside of it.

We will see a much bigger economic divide between the rural and the urban unless we do something about accelerating the economic growth of rural India. I believe microfinance is a very, very powerful tool. In fact, it is the only tool with a potential to revolutionise growth in rural India. That’s why it is important. It is not only important for the macro numbers of economic growth to be great, but we also must distribute wealth creation.

[Microfinance] is a tool that doesn’t interrupt or interfere with any of that, and it can work without that change. In fact, it accelerates that change but is not totally dependent on it. It is an independent axis of economic development. The government can keep doing things to help people from within the political structure, and there will be some good things about it. In the end, what is important is that this tool goes directly to those who are below the poverty line. It enables them, and it helps them sell. And there are thousands, if not millions, of stories in Bangladesh alone.

In Search of Wisdom

[via Atanu] Foundations Magazine writes:

What is this elusive quality called wisdom? How do we get it? First, let’s begin by taking a look at the four levels of thinking.

The first level is datasimple facts and figures. Next we have information. Information is data that’s been collected and organized. It is a reference tool. Something we turn to when trying to create something else.

The third level is knowledge. This is information that we have digested and now understand. Organized as knowledge, the information we have collected is given a context.

The fourth and final level is wisdom. Today, wisdom has become for many, indistinguishable from knowledge. But they are two different things. Often, what we find touted as wisdom is simply opinion. Knowledge is not wisdom. There is a big difference. Wisdom is the proper use of knowledge. To be more precise, wisdom is knowledge that has been applied in a way that takes into account all its pertinent relationships and that is consistent with universal laws.

Knowledge alone does not result in clear vision, a proper perspective, meaning, and the right behavior. But when this transformation does occur, we call it wisdom. How do we get wisdom? How do we develop it and make it a part of our lives?

Fundamentally, it is important to understand that wisdom is grounded in reality in two ways. To connect with reality and develop wisdom, we need to learn to be aware. Aware of ourselves and aware of those around us. We can learn from other people’s success and we can learn from their mistakes. From early on, we have all been told that we should learn from other people’s mistakes. Yet we see people in trouble all the time, but we forget to learn from their mistakes. Every person you come into contact with, good or bad, is for you, a lesson in living if you will only be aware. You need to define where they are off or what they are doing right and then determine what that means for you. Everything that you observe is a chance for you to figure out what it means and what you are supposed to do about it. When you see a problem in life, yours or someone else’s, something is wrong. What it is you are seeing? Figure it out. It is important that you know.

Second, if you know something works and you don’t do it, that’s being disconnected from reality. We Human Beings are the only living things that can decide to disconnect ourselves from reality. We are inclined to do what we want and not what we know we should do. We can, and often do, choose to live according to what is unreasonable; what makes no sense. We can do things in the same old way and justify doing it. But, we are only kidding ourselves. Living with reality takes an effort on our part. But, it is essential that we do the things that we know must be done and stop doing those things we know we shouldn’t be doing.

Anti-Spam Companies

CNN Money asks if a bubble is forming in the anti-spam space:

As unwanted e-mail continues to be a huge problem for corporations and consumers, analysts expect both more mergers in the sector and more companies looking to go public.

But is there enough spam fighting business to go around to justify a wave of IPOs? Some analysts that follow the sector don’t think so, which could mean that anti-spam is the next candidate for a tech bubble in the making.

Attracting a lot of IPO buzz these days are Postini and rivals on the managed services side of spam-blocking, FrontBridge Technologies and MessageLabs. Other companies in the anti-spam area with software and hardware solutions include MailFrontier, IronPort, and CipherTrust.

Petry said that Postini is not currently profitable but that it has had profitable quarters in the past. He would not disclose exact sales figures but said Postini was “not that far off from Brightmail.” Brightmail’s sales more than doubled last year, to $26 million.

Michael Osterman, president of Osterman Research, a research and consulting firm focusing on messaging, estimates that there already about 150 anti-spam vendors. He adds that more people, lured by the potential riches, will likely enter the market in the near future.

Anti-virus software firms like Symantec, Network Associates and Trend Micro are bulking up their anti-spam efforts. And network security is becoming a bigger area of focus for networking equipment companies such as Cisco Systems and Juniper Networks, which agreed to acquire firewall security firm NetScreen Technologies [in February].

Alan Weinfeld, a security software analyst with Fulcrum Global Partners, thinks that a bigger e-mail problem will be what is known as “phishing.” That’s when someone sends an e-mail that appears to be from a reputable source (i.e. a bank or e-commerce site) and asks for valuable information such as social security or credit card numbers.

Weinfeld said that there’s probably room for about only four or five major public anti-spam companies. He thinks Tumbleweed, Brightmail, Postini and CipherTrust have the best chances of remaining independent.

Mumbai’s World-class Bookstore

Mumbai finally has a bookstore we can all be proud of. Crossword moved from Mahalaxmi to Kemps Corner, and created a store (18,000 sq ft) that’s a joy to be in. Its quite amazing what a good bookstore can do to reading habits in the neighbourhood.

I enjoy spending time in bookstores – I make it a point to visit every store I can find when I travel. A good bookstore must have a wide range of books and magazines. Equally important: plenty of places to sit and ready and a helpful staff who knows books.Some of the best ones according to me: Stacey’s in San Francisco, the Barnes and Noble near Union Square in New York, Harvard Co-op in Cambridge, and Landmark at Spencer’s Plaza in Chennai. To this, we can now add Mumbai’s Crossword at Kemps Corner.

TECH TALK: As India Develops: Energy

One of the biggest challenges in India in the cities as well as rural areas is the availability of reliable power. Even as India goes about trying to set up gigantic power plants and revamp transmission to bridge the deficit, there is a need to think very differently about the power situation. Since there is little legacy in most parts of India (especially the rural sector), are there new options that can be looked at for providing power rapidly and cost-effectively across India?

Amory Lovins and L. Hunter Lovins, writing in The American Prospect (February 2002) put forth the challenge and alternatives. Even though their focus is on the US, many of the ideas outlined are relevant in the Indian context for building out a next-generation energy platform.

Supplying secure and affordable electric power is similarly feasible. America’s electricity now comes mainly from big power plants that stopped getting more efficient in the sixties, cheaper in the seventies, bigger in the eighties, and built in the nineties. The ones we already have will continue to serve us for a long time, however, and should at least start reusing the waste heat they now throw away–as much energy as Japan consumes for everything. In principle that could cut America’s total fuel usage by one-third, halve net generating cost, and save a trillion dollars per decade if more regulators allowed it here as they do in Europe. But big power stations can’t supply really cheap and reliable electricity, for two reasons: The power delivery systems cost even more than the stations, and the grid causes almost all the power failures.

On-site and neighborhood micropower generated in or near customers’ premises can solve both problems, offering diverse, decentralized, and thus nearly invulnerable supplies of electricity. Because microgeneration is also more flexible and quickly built than large power plants–and because it benefits from the valuable financial and engineering advantages of electric sources that are the right size for the job–it is favored in the market as well.

Doubled-efficiency, combined-cycle, gas-fired power stations, each producing hundreds of megawatts, swept the market in the 1990s. Now becoming obsolete, they’re starting to be displaced by swarms of microturbines, engine generators, and fuel cells that are a thousand or even 10,000 times smaller but equally or more efficient (and can more easily recapture waste heat). Manhattan’s Cond Nast Building, for instance, was designed to use half the energy of an ordinary office building; and with the saved construction costs, the developers were able to equip it with the two most reliable known power sources–fuel cells and solar cells.

The next step will integrate efficiency with a shift from hydrocarbons to plain hydrogen. We’ve already made progress in reducing the carbon burning that harms the climate; today, two of every three fossil-fuel atoms we burn are hydrogen, the other one carbon. The emerging hydrogen economy eliminates both the burning and the rest of the carbon by using pure hydrogen in fuel cells. Remember the high-school chemistry experiment in which an electric current splits water into hydrogen and oxygen? A fuel cell reverses this process, chemically recombining these gases to produce electricity, pure hot water, and nothing else. Fuel cells are the most efficient, clean, and reliable known source of electricity.

Initially, the hydrogen that they need will be made mainly from natural gas, but that’s no obstacle. An already mature hydrogen industry has developed ways to do this economically at all scales, though smaller is often cheaper as well as less vulnerable. Hydrogen is cost-competitive today in many uses. Moreover, the buoyant, clear-flame gas is safer to use and store than gasoline, and new research suggests that its refueling infrastructure would be cheaper.

The future hope for India lies in looking at distributed generation of micropower and alternate sources of energy solar, wind, perhaps biodiesel, and most importantly, hydrogen-powered fuel cells, tied together in an Energy Internet.

Tomorrow: Energy (continued)

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