Sims 2

WSJ writes on what to expect in the next version of the best-selling video game:

The game’s producers settled on the motto “Genes, Dreams, Extremes,” to describe the main new additions. The old Sims focus on characters’ physical needs, such as sleeping and using the bathroom, has taken a backseat to helping them fulfill life aspirations such as wealth and romance with psychological intrigue. The new characters will age and have babies, to whom they pass along physical and personality traits. In the version EA will show off this week, users can also play on their Sims’ fears, pushing them into breakdown that only an in-game shrink can help them snap out of.

The palette of character attributes, architectural options and objects has expanded dramatically in the sequel. Players will now be able to tweak their Sims’ noses and facial hair. There are 7,000 different permutations for objects in the game, including 12 versions of the Merokkan loveseat. Players will be able to create and save videos of their games to share with friends. Upgrades to the graphics make The Sims 2 strikingly more three-dimensional than its predecessor — though in-game encounters remain “teen-rated.”

Of the 12 million copies and 22 million expansion packs sold, half have been snapped up by women and buyers hail from most demographic groups. In designing the sequel, producers had to consider vastly different user tastes while also appealing to new players. Another challenge was to avoid larding the game with too many whiz-bang features.

An online flop of the game only ramps up the pressure. Released in December 2002, the subscription-based The Sims Online has fallen woefully short of subscriber targets, with under 75,000 currently signed up.

Enterprise Portals

InfoWorld has a special report:

Portals are no longer just jazzed-up intranets. Now that many applications are Web-enabled, portals are becoming the enterprise desktop and replacing the familiar browser. Dive below the surface, and you’ll find a portal’s distinguishing characteristics: Rich functions that enable swift information exchange for employees, partners, and consumers.

For example, a basic portal won’t automatically lessen information overkill; that takes support for strong identity management along with role-based customization and personalization. If this support is executed properly, users log in once and interact with information tailored to their jobs — whether that data is fed from a legacy database; content- or document-management system; another portal; or a new, Internet-based application.

Moreover, portals are redefining the way new applications are created, deployed, and managed. At the core of this movement you’ll find Web services and related open standards. Microsoft .Net, Sun’s Java System, WSRP (Web Services for Remote Portlets), and a number of Java Portlet Specifications — JSR (Java Specification Request) 168, 170, 188, and 207 — may help disparate systems freely interact (see “PortletStandard Predicament”). This openness and modularity provides the option of purchasing third-party portlets for specific functions. Development efforts — based on existing .Net and Java skills your staff likely holds — can then be focused on an enterprise’s unique portal requirements.

The top portal solutions will run on common J2EE app servers, such as IBM WebSphere or BEA WebLogic, or .Net, or both. Here’s what differentiates otherwise closely matched products: whether a portal runs best on a vendor’s own platform and how well it truly integrates with existing enterprise systems, such as directory and security.

There are three portal formats. One favors a tightly integrated APS (application platform suite) approach. Here, the application server, integration framework, and portal are combined into one platform. BEA, Oracle, Sun, Microsoft, and IBM(reviewed in October) follow this model.

With the APS approach, developers can more easily leverage existing databases and reuse business logic. However, you can get locked in to a particular vendor’s method of deploying applications or server management.

An alternate method — fusing diverse systems through the portal application — is the path Vignette and Plumtree(reviewed in February) follow. With this method, you may sacrifice some ability to manage applications throughout their life for the freedom to choose the best application server and other components to meet specific needs.

Lastly, ERP vendors such as SAP provide portal access to their own application along with some additional integration capabilities.

A related article discusses twoopen-source options: Metadot and Gluecode Advanced Server.

Linux on the Desktop

Amy Wohl has a presentation which discusses the current state and what to expect in the future. The missing pieces, according to Amy:

100% Compatible Office Suite
Function
Interoperability
Interface
Full Selection of Software, including Vertical Market, Consumer
Training
Users
Administrators
Ecosystem
Trainers and Training Materials
Systems Integrators
Custom Software Developers (Business Experience)

IBM’s Server-centric Software

NYTimes writes about a new offering by IBM:

The I.B.M. offerings include new Lotus Workplace software for PC’s and hand-held devices, but most of the critical software resides on server computers in corporate data centers. Workers can tap into their e-mail messages, calendar, work group and other software using a Web browser. The approach harks back to a low-cost model of computing – known as “thin client” computing – promoted in the late 1990’s by Sun Microsystems and Oracle as an alternative to Microsoft’s hefty desktop programs.

A worker using the Workplace software by I.B.M. can still run Microsoft Office programs. But I.B.M. also offers alternatives, built on free software from the open source project OpenOffice.org, including a word processor, spreadsheet and presentation software.

The Workplace desktop, I.B.M. says, promises to deliver improved security and cost savings of up to 50 percent over the Microsoft desktop suites. Since central control resides in the server software, I.B.M. says, it is easier to manage changes and updates, and eliminates the possibility of a desktop computer user inadvertently spreading a computer virus.

The I.B.M. products will be marketed to corporations, which will be charged for the server products. The client software is included, with one tailored for use only with a Web browser, and another with programs like a word processor and spreadsheet. I.B.M. plans to charge a $2 monthly maintenance fee for each user of the office suite product, called Workplace Document Management.

The strategy also makes it possible for corporate documents or messages to be retrieved with all kinds of devices. For example, a program for sharing information for work groups could be written on the server software, which would automatically present the information in different formats for PC’s, hand-held devices and cellphones.

Adds eWeek:

The company is living up to its promise of delivering “middleware everywhere” by shrinking its core middleware technology down to run on devices and other platform, according to company officials at a kickoff event here.

The new model supports the management, provision and deployment of business applications and data from a central server to clients ranging from PCs to PDAs, cell phones and shop-floor terminals. Enterprises would get the rich functionality of PC software from applications deployed via the Web, IBM officials said.

The model also extends applications to virtually any client a customer chooses, as the open middleware is designed to support clients running Windows, UNIX and Linux, as well as operating systems for wireless and embedded devices such as Symbian. Support for the Mac operating system will be available later this year, company officials said.

Much of this new software model will center around IBM’s fledgling Lotus Workplace messaging and collaboration suite. Two new Workplace products were announced as part of the new software model launch: IBM Lotus Workplace Messaging and IBM Lotus Workplace Documents.

Both offerings are delivered through Workplace’s new rich client platform built on the Eclipse framework. The new applications will allow organizations to centrally deploy and manage messaging and document management function to the most appropriate client or different types of users, while providing a rich client experience, IBM officials said.

Workplace Documents will provide a centralized location for users to create, import, edit and save rich documents, presentations and spreadsheets, officials said.

News.com also has an article on this topic.

Distributed Virtual Personal Computer

I came across an interesting paper by Jack Krupansky wherein he describes his idea:

One crazy idea I’ve been thinking about is what I call a “distributed virtual PC” or DVPC. The basic idea is that you have your full-blown PC with hard-drive, but the hard-drive is really just a cache, with all your data and settings being redundantly stored (and mirrored and cached) across any number of servers on the net, all transparently. The OS would need to be “upgraded” so that file changes are written through the local hard-drive cache to the distributed virtual drive on the net. If you occasionally are disconnected, such as on a plane or in the mountains, the cache changes would accumulate and then incrementally be written out to the net on future connections. Changes could also be written to a USB hard-drive or flash memory “drive” as well. Your physical PC could act as one or more virtual PCs via a logon, and more than one physical PC could be used to access each of your virtual PCs. Files on a virtual PC could be shared as defined using some access control scheme.

Now, here’s the big benefit… you’re happy with your PC, you’re traveling with all your important business presentations and settings and then… you drop your PC or it’s stolen or a virus deletes your files. Sure, maybe you remembered to create a backup disk and maybe you even remembered to bring it with you… or maybe not. With my DVPC, you could simply go up to ANY PC, log on and presto, you’re accessing your virtual PC with all your data and settings. Sure, it may take some time for the data to load into the local hard-drive cache, but with a high-speed net, that shouldn’t be a real problem.

A company which is planning to launch a product in a similar space in AllenPort.

Small-Scale Industry Clusters in India

UNIDO has a series of papers on the SSI clusters in India from studiesthey did in the 1990s. “With a contribution of 40% to the country’s industrial output and 35% to direct exports, the Small-Scale Industry (SSI) sector has achieved significant milestones for the industrial development of India. Within the SSI sector, an important role is played by the numerous clusters that have been in existence for decades and sometimes even for centuries. According to a UNIDO survey of Indian SSI clusters undertaken in 1996, there are 350 SSI clusters and approximately 2000 rural and artisan based clusters in India. It is estimated that these clusters contribute 60% of the manufactured exports from India…Despite such achievements, the majority of the Indian SSI clusters share significant constraints like technological obsolescence, relatively poor product quality, information deficiencies, poor market linkages and inadequate management systems.”

I wonder if there are any more recent studies.

We need the eqivalent of Tech 7-11s in these SSI neighbourhoods to take IT to them – they are a large, untapped market offering great potential, but also hard to reach and convince.

TECH TALK: Two Blog Years: All In A Days Work

I post items to my weblog every morning (sometime between 7 and 9 am India time). I tend to make all the posts in one sitting. Besides the Tech Talk daily column, I do about 5-6 posts on weekdays with 2-3 on the weekend. It takes about 30-45 minutes to do this. This is because I am also reading from the 150+ feeds that I have subscribed in my Info Aggregator, and scan a few sites that do not yet have RSS feeds. It is a routine that only gets disrupted when I have to travel or have an early morning meeting. In that case, I will try and prepare the posts the previous evening and just flip the status from draft to publish in MovableType, the software I use for blogging.

In most cases, I am doing the post without any comment. I take items that I think are interesting, abstract a part of the text from the original story and link to it from the blog. This has a dual purpose: it helps me find interesting items easily later, and I serve as a human filter (or aggregator) for a small part of the content web. At times, I will add a small commentary to the post, adding my unique perspective on what Ive read. Otherwise, most of the time, my fresh thinking comes in the form of the Tech Talk series that I write. The Tech Talks give me a longer format to build on ideas others or I may have explored in brief blog posts earlier. I typically write the Tech Talks on Sunday mornings it takes about 2-3 hours to write the five columns (each is about 500 words) for the week.

For me, the blog has become an ideas refinery. I learn a lot from reading what others write. Much like the open-source software community shares and gives back, the blog is my way of contributing back into the ideas community in my own small way by not just taking the time (a precious resource for all of us) to link and write, but also by discussing the ideas that are uppermost in my mind. The blog is a mirror of my mind. It reflects my latest thinking, built on the minds of many others. The comments I receive from many of the readers (and other bloggers) helps in real-time refining and getting the best out from a community smarter than any single individual.

Perhaps, the most important part of blogging is making the time. There are days when I found it difficult given the things that are always needing to be done in our action-packed lives. But, as with everything else, it is a matter of prioritisation. The blog has now become part of work for me because this is the way I think, enhance my thinking and get feedback from perceptive readers. By fixing a time and place for it (early morning, from home), it just becomes that much easier. During the day, when I read something interesting or think about an idea which could be posted, I will either make a note of it in my diary or if I am on the computer, create a draft post which reminds me about it the next time I sit for blogging.

Tomorrow: The Wider View

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