WSJ Technology Report

WSJ has an interesting set of articles. Among them:

Having won broad acceptance for use in the corporate back office, open-source software is looking to challenge Microsoft’s dominance of the desktop PC. The timing — and the technology — are right for an assault to begin, proponents say. But do the challengers have a prayer?

Move over Wi-Fi. WiMax promises to beam high-speed Internet connections across miles, eliminating the need for every building to be wired, and eventually allowing you to use your laptop, unplugged, to get on the Internet from all over the map.

Internet phone service could be the next big thing in telecom, promising more competition, new features and low-cost calling to anywhere in the world. But first, regulators have to decide: Is it more Internet, or more telephone?

With RSS, a program that will track your interests on the Web and send you updates, you don’t have to go out and find information. It finds you.

Companies are increasingly using avatars as imaginary coaches, co-workers and customers in computer-based training sessions designed to help sharpen sales skills, reinforce leadership expertise or boost management prowess.

Companies are turning to collaboration software that creates online “work spaces” — sites where teams can share documents and calendars, engage in discussions about a project or send messages to team members.

Will consumers pay the equivalent of pocket change for online digital content? A number of companies — new and old — are betting the answer is yes.

Google’s Options

San Jose Mercury News summarises a lot of the recent discussion that has been happening on Google and what it needs to do to fend off Microsoft:

What if Google decided to snuggle up a lot closer? What if it embedded itself deep into your computer’s operating system? What if it acted as your gateway to a host of other services, such as e-mail, word processing and the ability to search for information anywhere, from your computer’s hard drive to the Internet?

Google hasn’t said anything publicly about its plans. But industry insiders say the Mountain View company is considering entering into that kind of intimate technological relationship with users.

Many experts expect that Microsoft will seek to suffocate Google with a built-in function that can scour the Web or search any of a user’s computer files, including e-mails and Word documents, all with a simple click of the mouse on a key word or phrase.

“It’s clear to me that search is going to become more deeply embedded in the operating system. It’s where the value is,” said Michael Robertson, chief executive of Lindows, a San Diego company that competes with Microsoft by selling a version of the Linux operating system.

Google is reportedly considering a half-step: an add-on desktop tool that will allow computer users to search their own files as well as the Web.

But some experts say that such a search capability would be inferior to one that is embedded in the operating system.

An operating system that incorporated Google technology would allow users to conduct Web or file searches from inside e-mails or documents with a single mouse click. More important, such an arrangement would allow Google to own all the search capabilities on a computer, driving traffic to its ad-supported search results.

Experts believe Google could potentially turn its network into a full-fledged “online operating system” that manages everything, effectively allowing the user to bypass Windows. Users would simply go online for all their needs.

“That seems perfectly real and plausible to me,” said Brad Templeton, a longtime technology entrepreneur and chairman of the board of directors of the Electronic Frontier Foundation. “There are many technically appealing things about centralization.”

some observers are skeptical that Google could persuade users to manage their personal and business lives online.

“This has been tried before, and it doesn’t work,” said Eric Raymond, president of the Open Source Initiative. “People don’t like not having physical control of their bits and bytes. You put your data on someone else’s servers and it’s fundamentally out of your control.”

Separately, News.com provides an overview of the activity in the context of Google’s plans to launch a desktop search tool:

Google could establish a foothold–and a competitive edge–in this desktop search market by getting in early with free consumer software, supported by advertising. Also, it could broaden its advertising into a much more intimate PC environment, off the Web, where people spend at least 50 percent of their time.

Microsoft is working on updating the next version of Windows–Longhorn–to allow people to search text, files and the Web within many applications. However, that version isn’t slated for release until after 2006.

AltaVista, now owned by Yahoo, was among the first to take a stab at desktop search, but its product failed to catch on. Since then, a slew of companies have developed downloadable software applications to address the problem, including Copernic, Groxis, Enfish, 8020 and X1 Technologies. None have gathered critical mass.

Adware companies such as Claria and WhenU are trotting out new desktop applications to appeal to consumers and support their ad businesses…In a sign of growing overlap between Web search advertising and ad-supported desktop tools, Yahoo’s Overture subsidiary has struck a deal to display tiny text advertisements through Claria and WhenU.

Autonomy, Convera and Verity are all companies that are working to solve these enterprise search problems and typically offer much more robust technology than Google’s enterprise technology. Google’s system tends to focus on simplicity and works particularly well with HTML-based documents.

Paul Allen of Infobase Ventures writes: “Google is developing and giving away more valuable tools (primarily web based) than anyone in the history of the computer industry. Google doesn’t make any money from end-users. Google is subsidized by nearly 200,000 advertisers. Microsoft can’t Netscape Google, but Google can Netscape Microsoft!…With their super-efficient ad revenue model, they can continue to develop and give away all kinds of free software and internet tools in order to get eyeballs for their advertisers…I guess the question in my mind is this: what is to stop Google eventually from giving away a free open operating system (Linux or Lindows) and Office-like suite (OpenOffice, Star Office) to anyone that wants to buy a $200 computer from Wal-Mart? Their current revenue model would support this. The Innovators Dilemma invites this. Microsoft must shudder to think what Google might do to commoditize their most valuable and profitable software revenue streams.”

Selecting Passwords

I came across this article by Jeremy Wagstaff which is still as relevant today:

Base the password on mnemonics or acronyms, not words or names. Use your favorite song titles, movies, football teams as starters. It’s got to be something that you know a lot about, but not something that other people can find out about you — such as your birthday, your place of birth, or your kids’ names. The first letters of the movie The Year of Living Dangerously, for example, could be used in conjunction with its two main stars, Mel Gibson and Sigourney Weaver, to read “tyoldmgsw.”

That’s just the start. Now you have something you can remember, but it’s still just basic letters. You need to turn some of them into numbers, punctuation symbols and capitals. Try turning the “o” into a similar-looking zero, the “l” into a one and the “s” into a five. That would give you “ty01dmg5w” which is a lot better, and still easy to remember, since the numbers are similar to the letters they’ve replaced.

This, sadly, is still not good enough. The people who write hacking programs are on to this kind of trick, so your password is still vulnerable. It needs an extra trick or two. Try capitalizing the family-name letters, alter the 0 to similar-looking bracket marks (), and move the numeric characters one key to the left on your keyboard.

If your passwords are as good as that, then you should be safe. But there’s still a weakness, and it’s still human. Never give your passwords to anyone, don’t reuse them for different accounts, and change them every few months. Store them on your personal digital assistant if you like, but remember that, even if it’s in a well-encrypted file, all your valuable information is just one password away from being accessed by someone. If they steal your device, chances are they’re eager enough to try to crack the password protecting all your passwords. Passwords are better kept in your head, triggered by things you’ll never forget.

Dell vs HP

NYTimes writes about the marketplace battle between the distributor (Dell) and the innovator (HP):

The confrontation between Hewlett-Packard and Dell is more than a particularly lively bout of competition in the $106 billion-a-year printing industry. It is a clash – and an intriguing test case – of two different models of innovation and corporate strategy.

With its engineering roots and its corporate tagline “HP Invent,” Hewlett-Packard is committed to spending heavily on research and then funneling that home-grown technology into new products. Those products, in turn, must be able to command profits high enough to keep financing the corporate invention machine. Hewlett-Packard’s printing business is a showcase of success for internal innovation. Dell, by contrast, is pursuing a “virtual” research-and-development model. It does some engineering development work itself, but that typically amounts to tweaking an existing product. Dell’s main role is to scour the world for technology, fine-tune the products of corporate partners, wring costs from the supply chain and sell products directly to customers.

There is plenty of technology being developed by companies around the globe, Dell executives insist, but the technology often lacks an efficient path to the marketplace. And as it gets bigger and bigger, Dell is becoming the Wal-Mart of high technology, a marketer so powerful it can set product standards for its suppliers.

“This competition between Hewlett-Packard and Dell is a collision of two rival models of innovation,” said Henry Chesbrough, executive director of the Center for Technology Strategy and Management at the Haas School of Business at the University of California, Berkeley.

The Dell strategy is obvious: build a printer business, attack Hewlett-Packard’s crown jewel and, thus, hobble its principal rival. And Hewlett-Packard is trying to return the favor by cutting prices aggressively on PC’s with the goal of grabbing sales in the corporate PC market, which is Dell’s stronghold.

Paypal’s Success

The Economist writes about how eBay’s PayPal is turning into a huge online-payments business:

One of the most powerful forces in e-commerce is the network effect: the more people who flock to a particular website, the greater its appeal. The latest beneficiary of this phenomenon is PayPal, which now handles online payments at an annualised rate of more than $17 billion. PayPal is not a bank, but for online buyers and sellers it performs much the same function. It already has 45m account-holders worldwide, one-quarter of the number of the mighty Citigroup.

PayPal’s ambition is to become the global standard for internet payments and it is expanding overseas in eBay’s footsteps. In the first quarter of 2004, the value of items sold on eBay was $8 billion, 51% more than a year earlier. Meg Whitman, eBay’s chairman, told analysts recently that the company reckons one in three online shoppers in America now has a PayPal account.

PayPal’s cut comes from charging recipients between 2.2% and 3.4%, depending on the country, and levying fees for currency conversions. In the first quarter of 2004, PayPal’s revenues were $155m, 69% more than a year before.

PayPal has helped slash the time internet users spend completing transactions and has greatly increased confidence in trading online, says Matthew Bannick, the company’s general manager of global payments. It can take several weeks for cheques to arrive in the post and for payments to clear, but online payments are made instantly, which means goods can be shipped straight away. It has improved the velocity of trade, adds Mr Bannick.

Another benefit, he says, is that buyers do not have to impart banking or credit-card information to merchants.

PayPal wants to expand internationally, to continental Europe and Asia…PayPal has no plans, though, to become a bank, even though it performs some similar functions.

Late last year it introduced lower processing fees for micro-payments, to make it more feasible for online merchants to accept tiny payments for digital-music downloads. The success of portable music players, such as Apple’s iPod, suggest that this too will be big online business.

Economist on Manmohan Singh

The Economist looks back to a momentous week in Indian politics which culminated in Dr Manomohan Singh beocming Prime Minister:

In 1991, when Congress last took office, it was in an almost identical position to the one it finds itself in now: short of a majority, and forced to depend on the support of Communists from outside its coalition. Then, as now, Mr Singh was the chief reformer, though the party was led by P.V. Narasimha Rao, a septuagenarian poet with, at the time, no known enthusiasm or aptitude for reform. All the same, the Rao/Singh government lasted five years, during which it smashed the licence raj that had smothered the economy in regulations and condemned it to the sluggish Hindu rate of growth, a term now happily consigned to history. That government started to privatise, opened India to foreign investment and began to deregulate the country’s appalling infrastructure. Over the past six years, the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) merely continued Congress’s work, with plenty of backtracking along the way. By the time of this latest election, the BJP’s privatisation programme was restricted to selling off minority stakes in profitable businesses to eager buyers.

The real problem is that the Communists have chosen to remain outside a new government. Joining would have entitled them to cabinet representation and provided a chance to put some of the good ideas they have followed at state levelon local democracy, health care and literacyinto practice throughout India. The policies of these parties need not clash with reform. The proceeds of rapid privatisation could, for example, be invested in the sort of grass-roots human development that has worked so well in Kerala, where the Communists are strong. That would appeal to both sides of the coalition, and to foreign investors as well. Sadly, the Communists put local interests first (they are rivals to Congress in two key states), and so chose to stay out. But with luck, the result could be the same: bolder deregulation, combined with more attention to the 700m Indians who live in rural areas, far from call centres and cappuccino bars. This is precisely Mr Singh’s philosophy: that government should remove itself from all of the things it does not do well, which means pretty much anything to do with business, and concentrate its efforts on areas where markets alone do not provide the answers.

Whereas the BJP were always reluctant reformers, Mr Singh is the genuine article, a man who understands better than any other leading Indian politician the scope of what still needs to be done. This needs to include plenty more privatisation, tackling taboos such as the oil companies, the national airline and the banks. The essential but delicate task of chipping away at India’s mountain of inefficient subsidieswhich would allow vast sums to be spent instead on improving India’s physical and human infrastructurehas not even been started. Most pressing of all is the country’s fiscal mess: its deficit runs at 10% of GDP and absorbs far too much of its budget. But reducing this will be tough: neither widening the tax base nor cutting spending looks easy, especially with the Communists to convince. Still, Mr Singh has performed miracles before. When he took over as finance minister in 1991, India’s foreign exchange reserves had sunk to $1.2 billion, or three weeks of imports. When he left office in 1996, they stood at $18 billion, and the economy had grown by an average of 5.6% during those years, far better than before.

TECH TALK: Crucible Experiences: Leaders Learn

Carol Hymowitz wrote about pivotal situations in the lives of leaders in the Wall Street Journal (August 27, 2002):

Leadership advice is easy to find these days: workshops, conferences and private coaching sessions, often for a hefty price, on how to make the leap from executive to leader.

Yet those who have proved their ability to inspire rarely say they were guided by formal instruction. Instead, they point to life experiences that were pivotal in helping them recognize a capacity to make things happen and to get others behind them.

Many of these people show some qualities of young children: curiosity, boundless energy to put into practice what they learn, and a willingness to pick themselves up and keep going when they fall.

Warren Bennis, founding chairman of the Leadership Institute at the University of Southern California, and Robert Thomas, senior research fellow of Accenture’s Institute for Strategic Change in Cambridge, Mass., believe all leaders have undergone at least one crucible experience that unleashed their abilities and taught them who they were.

The two professors studied 43 leaders — half of them 70 or older and half 35 and younger — for their book “Geeks and Geezers”. Their transformational experiences varied from being mentored, to climbing a mountain, to losing an election, but ultimately proved more important than the person’s education, intelligence or birth order.

“Sometimes it is an event, sometimes it is a relationship … sometimes joyous, sometimes tragic … but it’s always a powerful process of learning and adaption,” they write. “It is both an opportunity and a test.”

Bob Rich Jr., president and CEO of Rich Products, a Buffalo maker of food products, says his crucible experience came right after he graduated from college, when his father gave him the chance to launch a subsidiary of the family-run company in Canada. “I was 22 years old and at the age when I was convinced that my father knew very little,” he recalls ruefully. “But I soon found out otherwise. Here I was thrown into the breach with a million-dollar budget and responsibility for building a new plant, and I knew nothing.”

He began seeking his father’s advice, and soon discovered he was a wise business adviser. “We became very close through that process,” he says.

The experience also taught him to be more tolerant and respectful of others and not to make glib assumptions. Placed so early in his career in a leadership role, he has always sought the counsel of employees throughout his company, he says.

In the context of leadership, Robert Thomas writes that crucible refers to an experiential dimension in the lives of all the leaders we interviewed: an intense, transformational experience that set them on the road to where they are now. For these leaders, the crucible served as a sort of ordeal or test. Surviving the test was an entry or initiation into the life of leadershipTrue leaders create meaning out of difficult events or relationships, while others may be defeated or even devastated by them. Leaders come out of these experiences with something usefuleven a plan of action. Through the crucible, they acquire new insights, new skills and new qualities of mind or character that make it possible to leap to a new, higher level.

Tomorrow: Four Types

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