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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Semacode to link Camera Phones to Web

Wired News writes:

Technologists have long dreamed of a clickable world, where machine-readable tags link physical objects to the universe of information on the Web. That dream came closer to reality this month with the release of Semacode, a free system that lets camera phones convert bar codes into URLs.

In many respects, bar codes make ideal URL tags. Ink and paper are cheap. Translating URLs into bar codes is easy. Unfortunately, hardly anyone owns a Web-enabled bar-code reader. A company called Digital Convergence tried to give away its CueCat bar-code reader to achieve the same thing. But consumers yawned, the press scoffed, and Digital Convergence faded away.

Canadian programmer Simon Woodside, the creator of Semacode, had been tinkering with modified CueCats when he started to consider the possibilities of using camera phones as bar-code readers instead. Market penetration would take care of itself, he reasoned. Equipped with the proper software, the camera phone would make a dandy URL bar-code reader.

After a year of development, and with help from his associate Ming-Yee Iu, Woodside released the Semacode system.

Semacodes themselves are standard URLs in the form of two-dimensional Data Matrix bar codes. A Java applet on the Semacode site transforms text URLs into Semacodes. In turn, the downloadable reader for camera phones translates Semacodes into URLs and loads them into the phone’s browser. The process requires little more than centering the Semacode in the camera’s display and pressing a button.

But unlike the commercial products, Semacode is an open system. Rather than putting a tollgate between the physical world and the Web, Semacode simply bridges the two.

What do you do with Semacodes? In theory, you can stick a Semacode on any physical object about which people want more information. At San Francisco Bay Area transit stops, people have pasted Semacodes linking to real-time arrival information from NextBus. This week, the art group etoy will issue Semacoded uniforms to 500 children participating in its etoy.Day-Care-2 project at the Nieuwe Domeinen arts and architecture festival in Amsterdam. A quick scan of the uniform would link to the children’s Web page with real-time information about them.

Woodside had other suggestions: Businesspeople could put Semacodes on their business cards to link to constantly updated contact information. Museums could tag exhibits with Semacodes to provide information in multiple languages. And yes, Woodside said, stores could mark their merchandise with Semacodes.

But mainstream acceptance may not come easily. Semacode faces a classic technology Catch-22, in that few people will install the software if there are no Semacodes to read, and few people will create Semacodes if no one has installed the software.

Yahoo Groups Alternative

Sillybean wants something to run on the Intranet:

I run a Yahoo group at work. I inherited it from the creator, who presumably set us up there because while the university offers Listserv, it doesn’t provide us with the other goodies Yahoo offers — calendars, polls, file repositories, etc.

However, one departmental sysadmin with nothing better to do has blocked one of our members, saying he can’t imagine why we’d need to use Yahoo instead of the university’s resources. After I finished rolling my eyes, I went in search of some sort of alternative that we can set up internally. (I would like to get us off Yahoo for reasons having nothing to do with this incident.) We don’t use all of Yahoo’s features; we need:

– Files area
– Link lists (easy enough to do manually if we have to)
– Database (a contact list with customized fields)
Polls
– Calendar

I would also like to either have a listserve run through this tool, or to have this present a better interface to Listserv’s archives. All the items above should be open to any group member. Ideally, we’d be able to run more than one group using the same software.

So far, phpGroupWare is the best candidate I’ve found. PHProjekt and dotProject are also contenders, but they’re more oriented toward focused project management, while we’re more free-form.

Linux on the Desktop

Excerpts from a vnunet.com with Red Hat CEO Matthew Szulik:

I speak to very high-level customers and government leaders who are starting to build next generation information systems. It starts with building on standardised hardware. We’re starting to see the [necessary] application performance on Linux. With dependable architecture, infrastructure and security, we believe we can now achieve what they need on a desktop.

You’re seeing companies like Salesforce.com emerge that will deliver that sales force automation functionality as a managed service in the same way we’re distributing our desktop…
The computing paradigm is changing. Whether it’s your word processor, email package or calendar, it will be a web service in five years time. The desktop was built over twenty years. Most people in 1995 wouldn’t have thought email would be their preferred method of communicating with their loved ones.

Web services is how we’ll distribute this desktop product. If you go to redhat.com or use the Red Hat network, that’s a web service [using] XML-RPC. The issue about web services is vendor neutrality if one vendor controls XML, or chooses to license the XML format or XML data schema.

[The advantages that companies see in Linux are] cost, performance, standardisation and no vendor lock-in. They’re the big four. Lower operating cost, improved performance, improved reliability and not tied to a single vendor. They were saving [millions] getting rid unreliable systems causing lots of expense and headache. One of those Wall Street banks now has one administrator for 800 machines. One did it then everybody else came rushing to him to say: ‘how did you do that?’ Now nine out of the 10 leading Wall Street banks are Red Hat customers.

Google’s AdSense

WSJ writes how some entrepreneurs are seeking to exploit Google’s AdSense:

Here’s how the system works. AdSense serves text ads to sites that have related content — for instance, a Dell ad might run on a site about computers. Advertisers pay when user click on the ads, anywhere from a few pennies a click to $20 or more for particularly sought-after topics. Google shares a percentage of that bounty with the Web site owners, though it doesn’t reveal the specific split.

To exploit this, some sites enlist in the AdSense program and build pages targeted at topics that are likely to draw high-value ads, automatically “served” from Google.

“I find the most competitive and most expensive areas, and build sites around them,” says Howard A. Brown, 36, the owner of Studio City, Calif.-based Real Results LLC, who runs sites on mesothelioma, depression and dyslexia. The eventual goal, he says, is to find sponsors for his sites, but in the meantime, AdSense “is a quick way to add some revenue.”

Ed Kohler, a search-engine marketing consultant in Minneapolis, has a more complex strategy — essentially AdSense arbitrage. He buys cheap ads to draw users to his site, HaystackInANeedle.com, where he writes about topics that will attract expensive ads. If a reader clicks on his cheap ad to come to his site, and then leaves the site by clicking on an expensive ad, he makes money on the difference, minus Google’s cut.

For example, Mr. Kohler wrote an article last September about shopping-cart software, something of interest to e-commerce companies. He tweaked his article to make sure the right Google ads — those worth $3 or more per click — would be served onto his site. (One of the expensive search terms: “best shopping cart software.”) Then he bid for several search strings like “evaluating shopping cart software” that were available for five cents a click. If someone who searched for “evaluating shopping cart software” on Google was directed to Mr. Kohler’s site, and then clicked on one of his ads, he would be paying just five cents to get about $1.50 from Google, depending on the Google split.

“If one in 10 are clicking out [through an expensive ad], I do okay,” says Mr. Kohler. He says he used to make about $150 per month on the shopping-cart software article alone. That’s down to $75 per month now that Google has tweaked its payment system to charge advertisers less for some clicks.

Underpinning this new cottage industry is a recent shift in search-based ads, which is the fastest-growing form of advertising on the Net, generating about $2.5 billion in revenue last year. Google and archrival Yahoo Inc. have expanded their programs beyond search engines, enlisting publishing partners to place these text same search ads on content pages. So, in addition to running alongside Web-search results, the same Dell ad could run next to an article on a news site about personal computers.

Yahoo has kept distribution narrow, choosing mostly large publishers, including ESPN.com and The Wall Street Journal Online. But Google has opened its AdSense program to a wider audience, serving ads everywhere from trade publications to personal home pages. Small sites seeking to capitalize on high-value keywords enroll their sites in the program, and then work to attract Web traffic, often by tweaking their sites to climb in search-engine rankings.

US VoIP Market

Barron’s writes:

VOIP gradually has become good enough to become the backbone of some corporate-communications networks. Voice quality on an Internet call, in most cases, now equals that of calls placed via the old circuit-switching network. And the spread of broadband Internet access has set the stage for an assault on the vast consumer-telecom market by VOIP firms.

“It feels like the early days of the cellular business, or the cable business,” enthuses Sandy Miller, a managing director at 3i, a Menlo Park, Calif., venture-capital firm that has invested in Vonage of Edison, N.J., a privately held VOIP provider. “It’s as large a potential new market as I can think of anyplace across technology.”

And because the new technology routes calls in “packets” — clusters of data — it allows users to tap into nifty new services, such as calls that follow you from phone to phone, voice mail sent to your e-mail in-box and cheap conference calling. Many of those aren’t available through old-fashioned circuit-switched networks. Recently, several companies have announced plans to offer VOIP over Wi-Fi — letting consumers make voice calls over the ‘Net via a wireless connection to their laptop, desktop or hand-held computer.

Perhaps most important from an investor’s point of view, VOIP allows new competitors into the phone business. The Bells, in particular, face a flood of rivals, ranging from well-capitalized cable outfits to shoestring-financed startups and resuscitated dot-coms once given up for dead. The coming free-for-all will change the face of the U.S. telecom business. This is, in short, a very big deal.

To be sure, the voice-over-Internet protocol revolution has a long way to go. For starters, to use VOIP, the customer must have broadband-cable or DSL Internet access, or be in the franchise area of a cable company providing phone service. That is a target market of less than a quarter of U.S. households, although the number is increasing. (About 22 million American households now have broadband access; the total will hit 47 million by the end of 2007, according to AT&T.) And VOIP still hasn’t gained much traction among those who could use it now. At the end of 2003, there were perhaps 150,000 residential VOIP customers. Even if you assume 100% annual growth, the figure wouldn’t hit two million until 2007 — and that would be less than 2% of 109 million U.S. households.

Nonetheless, the early results are eye-opening. Vonage, the market leader in consumer VOIP services, had 7,000 consumer customers at the end of 2002. Now, it has north of 155,000, the total is increasing at the rate of 20,000 a month and CEO Jeff Citron says 350,000 is reachable by year end. AT&T, which is rolling out its Internet-based CallVantage service, expects one million residential and business users by the end of 2005. By then, almost all of the major and secondary cable companies will be offering Internet-based telephone service of some sort. Even the Bells are jumping into the fray, initially with service for business, but eventually for consumers too, as the Bells’ residential customer base shrinks.

The article discusses five markets for VoIP: carrying long-distance and international calls, corporate VOIP networks (IP-PBX), PC-to-PC Internet telephony, prepaid calling cards and the home market.

Bill Gates Talk

Here is the transcript of the talk Bill Gates gave at the Microsoft CEO Summit 2004. A nice overivew of new technologies. This is what he had to say about email, collaboration, RSS and blogs:

E-mail suffers when you have lots of people collaborating and different attachments that are going back and forth. And the creation of this idea that, whenever you want to work with somebody, you just create a Web site — called a SharePoint Web site — that’s been very explosive in the last year as we’ve built that more into Office. Office, even if you have the latest, will make a hint that when you send an e-mailed attachment that, do you really just want to click here and we’ll just make a Web site that everybody can go to and see what’s going on there?

What happens very quickly when a company adopts that is you get all different templates for these shared Web sites for starting a project, for doing a meeting, for discussing what’s going on with a customer. It’s phenomenal to see how quickly that takes place. So, the next generation of collaboration really is about bottoms-up creation of Web sites where the IT department doesn’t have to get involved. In fact, you can just have a few people administering 50,000 different sites and those sites get staged out and everything in a simple way.

Another new phenomenon that connects into this is one that started outside of the business space, more in the corporate or technical enthusiast space, a thing called blogging. And a standard around that that notifies you that something has changed called RSS.

This is a very interesting thing, because whenever you want to send e-mail you always have to sit there and think who do I copy on this. There might be people who might be interested in it or might feel like if it gets forwarded to them they’ll wonder why I didn’t put their name on it. But, then again, I don’t want to interrupt them or make them think this is some deeply profound thing that I’m saying, but they might want to know. And so, you have a tough time deciding how broadly to send it out.

Then again, if you just put information on a Web site, then people don’t know to come visit that Web site, and it’s very painful to keep visiting somebody’s Web site and it never changes. It’s very typical that a lot of the Web sites you go to that are personal in nature just eventually go completely stale and you waste time looking at it.

And so, what blogging and these notifications are about is that you make it very easy to write something that you can think of, like an e-mail, but it goes up onto a Web site. And then people who care about that get a little notification. And so, for example, if you care about dozens of people whenever they write about a certain topic, you can have that notification come into your Inbox and it will be in a different folder and so only when you’re interested in browsing about that topic do you go in and follow those, and it doesn’t interfere with your normal Inbox.

And so if I do a trip report, say, and put that in a blog format, then all the employees at Microsoft who really want to look at that and who have keywords that connect to it or even people outside, they can find the information.

Jeff Jarvis provides a wider view:

Gates wasn’t talking about blogs as blather. He was talking about blogs as tools for personal and business publishing of any kind of information. And he was talking about RSS as a new means of communication and distribution.

This means that, of course, Microsoft will embrace blogs and RSS in its tools, from Word to IE. It also makes Google look smart for buying Blogger (without a strategy then).

Providing publishing tools and space will be an essential service in the near future — for businesses, for family shopping lists, for unlimited sorts of publishing — and the war to win that space is just beginning.

Forget giving me virtually unlimited free email space. Give me virtually unlimited blogspace (and bandwidth).

I’m not sure how this will shake out for companies. It’s easy to argue that blogging toolmakers should consider moving to Maine and opening a B&B (with or without selling to Microsoft) — but then again, as personal and business publishing gets more specialized, there may be opportunities in creating specialized tools. Wouldn’t it be great if the Microsoft Word blogging tool allowed plug-ins? Yeah, it would be great.

The smart way to look at Gates’ blessing is to think about blogging as a platform for any kind of publishing, communication, and distribution. Bill will.

TECH TALK: Crucible Experiences: Lifes Tests

I first came across the term crucible experience when I was reading a book by Warren Bennis and Robert Thomas, Geeks and Geezers. I thought about it again recently when I was interviewing a candidate and asked him what his crucible experiences were. Just as I asked him, I began to also think about my own crucible experiences. More on that later. First, let us understand what a crucible experience is.

We probably encountered the word crucible in chemistry classes in college. A crucible is a vessel used for high temperature chemical reactions. It is made of material that does not melt easily. Bennis and Thomas elaborate: The American Heritage Dictionary defines a crucible as a place, time or situation characterized by the confluence of powerful intellectual, social, economic or political forces; a severe test of patience or belief; a vessel for melting material at high temperature. Blending these three definitions, we use crucible to refer to an intense, meaningful and often transformational experience.

That is the context for a crucible experience something which transforms us, and shakes and shapes our lives. We have all gone through these experiences in our life some of these experiences last a short time, others much longer. Either way, they help change us in some way. More often than not, these are intense and deeply personal experiences, which we would rather not talk about. Even thinking about these experiences makes us want to purge them from our memories. But whatever happens, they leave an indelible mark on us for the rest of our life.

Crucible experiences have a way of testing us. They bring out aspects of our personality that we did not know existed. We can think of them in other words (for example, adversity). In each case, they help build our character be it as an individual or in the workplace. These events can be voluntary for example, a difficult and dangerious trek we decided to take. At other times, they just happen leaving us rushing to react. It is also at times like these that we realise whom we are really close to. All in all, the crucible experiences are character-building. While we are going through these experiences, we may wonder why is it happening to us. But later (sometimes much, much later), when we reflect back, we realise that there was definitely some good that came out of it.

Each of our lives is the sum of our experiences. As Albert Einstein said, The only source of knowledge is experience. Add to that Benjamin Disraelis quote, There is no education like adversity. Take them together and you can think of crucible experiences as lifes step functions: each taking us to a new, higher level, as long as we are willing to learn.

Tomorrow: Leaders Learn

A Personal Information and Knowledge Infrastructure Integrator

An excerpt from a paper in the Journal of Digital Information by K. Andrew Edmonds, James Blustein and Don Turnbull:

The Next Big Thing is being grown organically, cultivated by software developers and pruned by personal Weblog publishers. The rising Weblogging space of the Internet is looking more like traditional hypertext than the Web of the 1990s. The ways in which Weblogging has evolved beyond the previous limitations of the Web as hypertext, and the ways Weblogging is evolving towards common-use hypertext destined to play a critical role in everyday life, will be explored. We have a vision of a universal information management system built on extending the traditional hypertext framework. In our utopian future, everyone will use tools descended from today’s blogs to structure, search and share personal information, as well as to participate in shared discussion. We begin by expressing a vision of common-use hypertext for information management and interpersonal communication. This vision is grounded in the rapid evolution of Weblogs and known issues in information systems and hypertext. The practical implications of who will use these systems, and how, is expanded as usage scenarios for Weblogs now and in the future. After recapping the current issues facing the Weblogging community, we look to the long-range implementation issues with optimism. Our system is forward-looking yet realistic. The activities the system will support are extrapolated from recent developments in the online community, and most of the sketches of implementation are based on current approaches. It is of more than passing interest that the features we extrapolate were all described by Nelson as early hypertext ideals. Of particular interest is that the features are now being implemented because of perceived immediate need by communities of interest.

We are getting closer to the Memex.

The Small Software Company

Dan Bricklin writes:

The type of business I’m interested in is the small software firm, probably just one or two developers. It’s the type of business that developed my two most influential applications, VisiCalc and Dan Bricklin’s Demo Program. I believe that such firms are an important source of innovation for the world, and should be encouraged. I also know that there are many people who like working in such an arrangement, without being part of a larger organization, and it would be a shame for that not to be available to them as a reasonable form of livelihood.

I am planning to produce a variety of relatively simple “utility” programs and sell them to see which get some traction before continuing to enhance those into more full-featured products.

In the past that strategy would have a problem because of the cost to publicize, manufacture, and distribute the products. Marketing and distribution costs are very real. An ad in a magazine can cost thousands of dollars each time it runs, and you need to run it repeatedly to keep up sales. Printing manuals, duplicating diskettes and CDs, and creating packaging all cost money — all spent in advance of any sales. A product that brought in just a few thousand dollars in sales would be a total loss. You had better be pretty sure that your application was worth the investment, and not just have the time to invest for development, but also the seed money to get marketing off the ground. “Getting traction” for various utilities, from what I’ve seen, can easily take from months to a year or more, and much of that time is devoted to active marketing, not creating new products.

Sales can happen through “push”, where you actively sell the product and find ways to reach people and let them know why they should want your product. They can also happen through “pull”, where the people realize themselves that they need your product and go to you to get it. A really good situation is when the “word of mouth” recommendations of the product create enough pull to make the company self sustaining.

In terms of getting traction, software that you don’t have to pay for has an advantage over software that you do. Unless the “for fee” software has a strong pull or push to recommend it, there is a tendency for many people to try the free version first and only get the more expensive version if the free version doesn’t meet their needs. A variation is using a free “trial” version of a product, but an always free (to acquire) product is better.

Today, there is the Internet with search engines, there are people comfortable with downloading with access to reasonably high bandwidth connections, and more, so the costs to market and distribute can start out much lower than in the old days. The incremental expenses per product during the time while you wait to see if interest reaches a critical mass that creates strong pull can be much lower.

There is a problem, though, for products that, while possibly innovative in their approach to a problem, are not that complicated to code. While you are waiting for traction, or soon thereafter, someone creates a similar product (after seeing yours) and gives it away as some sort of “free” (to acquire, as in “free beer”) software.

An alternative, of course, is to write open source to begin with and make it as likely as possible that many no-fee copies of your product will be distributed and that your product is the one that others recommend and takes over its market niche. This makes considering open source a defensive move for marketing purposes. In addition, releasing a product as a form of open source has many other marketing benefits and can lead to greater user satisfaction and wider use. The question is, of course, can you make money that way?

He has just introduced his first product from Software Garden – Servertest 1.0, which lets “you monitor how one or more web sites respond to requests for web pages over a long period of time, showing an indication of average response time and pattern of timeouts.”

Good Office Design

Jason Kottke points to a 2000 article by Malcolm Gladwell, which “draws parallels between good office design and the ideas in Jane Jacobs’ The Death and Life of Great American Cities”:

The task of the office, then, is to invite a particular kind of social interaction–the casual, nonthreatening encounter that makes it easy for relative strangers to talk to each other. Offices need the sort of social milieu that Jane Jacobs found on the sidewalks of the West Village. “It is possible in a city street neighborhood to know all kinds of people without unwelcome entanglements, without boredom, necessity for excuses, explanations, fears of giving offense, embarrassments respecting impositions or commitments, and all such paraphernalia of obligations which can accompany less limited relationships,” Jacobs wrote. If you substitute “office” for “city street neighborhood,” that sentence becomes the perfect statement of what the modern employer wants from the workplace.

To maximize the amount of contact among employees, you really ought to put the most valuable staff members in the center of the room, where the highest number of people can be within their orbit. Or, even better, put all places where people tend to congregate–the public areas–in the center, so they can draw from as many disparate parts of the company as possible. Is it any wonder that creative firms often prefer loft-style buildings, which have usable centers?

Another way to increase communication is to have as few private offices as possible. The idea is to exchange private space for public space, just as in the West Village, where residents agree to live in tiny apartments in exchange for a wealth of nearby cafs and stores and bars and parks.

A more direct approach is to create an office so flexible that the kinds of people who need to spontaneously interact can actually be brought together.

RSS for Alerts

Jon Udell has an idea for RSS: institutional alerts.

My bank, for example, sends me email alerts when my checking balance falls below $500. To separate those alerts from my spam filters on the one hand, and from my interpersonal email on the other hand, I had to write a filter to catch them and route them to a folder. Many (probably most) people won’t go that extra mile. They’ll have to pluck the bank’s messages from a chaotic email stream, and will wind up missing some alerts.

The obvious alternative is a personalized RSS feed. Does anyone have this already? I’m hoping that, before the end of this year, at least one of the institutions that currently sends me email alerts will offer an RSS option.

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  • Freidman: India needs More Reforms, not Less

    Thomas Friedman writes on the aftermath of the Indian elections, echoing some of the sentiment in my Tech Talk series this week:

    The broad globalization strategy that India opted for in the early 1990’s has succeeded in unlocking the country’s incredible brainpower and stimulating sustained growth, which is the best antipoverty program. I think many Indians understand that retreating from their globalizing strategy now would be a disaster and result in India’s neighborhood rival, China, leaving India in the dust. But the key to spreading the benefits of globalization across a big society is not about more Internet. It is about getting your fundamentals right: good governance, good education. India’s problem is not too much globalization, but too little good governance. Local government in India basic democracy is so unresponsive and so corrupted it can’t deliver services and education to rural Indians. As an Indian political journalist, Krishna Prasad, told me: “The average Indian voter is not saying, `No more reforms,’ as the left wants to believe, but, `More reforms, please’ genuine reforms, reforms that do not just impact the cities and towns, but ones which percolate down to the grass roots as well.”

    India needs a political reform revolution to go with its economic one. “With prosperity coming to a few, the great majority are simply spectators to this drama,” said Mr. George. “The country is governed poorly, with corruption and heavy bureaucracy at all levels. I am a great advocate of technology and globalization, but we must find a way to channel their benefits to the rural poor. What is happening today will not succeed because we are relying on a corrupt and socially unfair system.”

    Microsoft’s Malaysia Strategy

    WSJ writes about Microsoft’s affordability experiment in Malaysia:

    PCs were red-hot for two days last month when software giant Microsoft Corp. swept into town. It offered shiny new computers running Microsoft software at rock-bottom prices. The machines were packed with everything from Microsoft’s signature world-processing software to a “premium” digital-photography package. They even boasted a Windows interface with key commands translated into the local language.

    Microsoft and chip-maker Intel Corp., along with local partners, set up a colorful display of low-cost PCs on the ground floor of the Port Dickson mall, between a supermarket and a ginseng vendor. There were Microsoft balloons, posters and six new PCs for shoppers to try out as part of the government’s “PC Gemilang” program. That translates from the Malay as, roughly, “brilliant PC.” Machines running the Malaysian version of Windows XP started at roughly $302 [monitor included]; computers with Linux software cost even less, about $263. [Microsoft] its less robust — and less expensive — Works program in place of Office.

    The promotion, part of a PC-ownership initiative backed by the Malaysian government, offers a glimpse of a much broader strategy of price cuts and other initiatives Microsoft executives are readying for the developing world.

    Things like the Malaysian initiative could represent a break from the company’s years-old policy of “global pricing,” or charging roughly the same amount for most products world-wide. Microsoft is even considering a sort of “Windows Lite” operating system, which could offer fewer features, and a lower price, to people in less tech-savvy nations.

    It’s a risky strategy, but one the Redmond, Wash., company is pursuing to drum up more business in poorer nations and fight “open source” software like Linux, its chief competitor there. Much open-source software can be downloaded free from the Internet, making it attractive to Third World governments struggling to bring their populations online.

    While Microsoft’s sales in the developing world remain scant, less-developed nations, including China and India, represent a huge and critical emerging market for the company. Microsoft knows it will have to fight Linux and tap these markets to keep its vaunted growth machine humming.

    Still, selectively slashing prices for first-time PC buyers in places like Malaysia or Indonesia opens up the possibility of a dangerous domino effect, some analysts say. Core business customers could demand discounts, too. Cheap and scaled-down software, if written in English, could cross international borders, depressing the price for regular Microsoft products globally and breaking the company’s profitable lock on the market.

    The program could signal “the start of the collapse of the Microsoft pricing structure,” says Sam Jadallah, a venture capitalist at Mohr Davidow Ventures in Silicon Valley and a former top Microsoft executive. Indeed, the low-cost Malaysian PC program was sparked by a similar government initiative last year in Thailand. Indonesia recently announced a consumer computer program, and Vietnam and Laos are expected to launch initiatives soon.

    Microsoft’s Mr. Moore wouldn’t comment about a “Windows Lite” operating system. But he said Microsoft is evaluating whether its current products represent “the appropriate technology, packaging and pricing for the developing world.”

    The company would like to offer a uniform package of low-cost software to countries below a certain per-capita income, Mr. Moore said. The packages likely would be distributed only through government-PC programs. And, most likely, the low-cost software would be translated into local languages, as it is in Malaysia and Thailand. If it offered the software in English, the products could move around the globe, and “in six months’ time, the U.S. price would be the same price as in Malaysia,” says Butt Wai Choon, managing director of Microsoft’s Malaysian subsidiary.

    BEA’s Plans

    News.com writes about BEA’s plans after a disappointing quarter:

    BEA, which last week announced lower-than-expected sales, is hoping to revive customer interest with several new products. The company plans to fill in the picture on Project Sierra, a set of educational programs and technical resources for designing a modern computing system called a services-oriented architecture. Also expected are details about an initiative to broaden the use of its WebLogic Workshop Java development tool, in part by submitting some of the code to open-source projects, according to people familiar with the company’s plans.

    And, BEA said, it will discuss products under development, including better management tools; a standards-based messaging product called an enterprise service bus; and the next version of its flagship WebLogic product line.

    Analysts generally agree that BEA’s technical vision has long been on target. But the company is finding that even cutting-edge technology does not guarantee growth in the highly competitive market for infrastructure software. Larger and better-heeled competitors, such as IBM and Microsoft, have broader product lines, which gives them more inroads to large corporate accounts, analysts said.

    BEA’s WebLogic Platform suite includes an application server–the software needed to run applications–as well as a portal, integration software and a Java development tool. The company has sought to reduce its dependency on the WebLogic application server, which fueled its rapid growth in the late 1990s, by selling the WebLogic Platform suite of products.

    When BEA launched WebLogic Platform 8.1 last summer, the company said its Workshop development tool would make Java programming easier and simplify the process of integrating multiple business applications–long a pain point with corporate customers.

    At its eWorld customer conference, BEA intends to describe how it will expand its product line and to articulate its overall technology vision. According to descriptions of conference sessions, BEA will discuss tools built around Web services protocols to ease the management of WebLogic applications. The company will also detail “Diablo,” the code name for the next version of the WebLogic application server, which is being designed to improve its clustering capabilities. Another product in the works is an enterprise service bus (ESB), code named QuickSilver, which is not expected to be completed until next year, according to a software executive who works at a BEA partner company.

    Another News.com report discusses Beehive:

    The goal of the initiative is to get more developers to use Java tools compatible with BEA server software. BEA also hopes to spur the creation of “controls,” or prewritten Java components, based on BEA’s component model.

    The Beehive code, which will be updated by BEA engineers, will be available this summer through a BSD-style open-source license. BEA has not yet decided which organization will host the open-source project.

    BEA’s WebLogic Workshop is a visual development tool designed to simplify Java programming and make it easier to integrate business applications. The tool has received praise from customers and industry analysts for its ability to mimic the visual programming style popularized by Microsoft’s Visual Basic.

    Although WebLogic Workshop has been a successful product for BEA, the company is facing growing competition for developer loyalty from other Java tools efforts, including Eclipse, an open-source project founded by IBM. In the past year, usage of Eclipse has shot up dramatically, with usage in North America rising 90 percent, according to Evans Data.

    The software being released to the open-source community is what BEA calls an “application framework,” or a set of utilities for deploying Java applications. For example, the Beehive software includes tools for managing a series of events during a multistep Web services application or designing the sequence of Web page views in a portal application. BEA executives said the company will not make any other “run time” software, such as its WebLogic application or portal software available to open-source developers.

    Right now, the Beehive application framework only works with BEA’s WebLogic Workshop development environment. That means that when a Java programmer writes an application with BEA’s Workshop, the application can only run on BEA’s Java server software. By making Beehive software open source, programmers will be able to use any Java development tool and potentially deploy it on other Java server software packages, BEA executives said.

    Telstra’s Sensis Youth Search Plans

    The Australian writes about how Sensis plans to fight back the global majors by creating a youth-focused search engine brand:

    Sensis general manager of search Greg Ellis says the new search brand, which will launch within two months, will target a primary audience of “net-savvy” 15 to 28-year-olds. It will co-exist with existing Sensis brands such as Yellow Pages and aims to take on Google and Yahoo by filling a gap in the market for search information that is locally relevant. “What we’re trying to do is to build a brand that we currently don’t have (to) appeal to a younger audience (of) 15 to 24-year-olds,” Ellis says.

    Web and print publishers are keen to protect their classified advertising base from competition from Telstra’s Trading Post acquisition. Newspaper classifieds are worth an estimated $1.7 billion alone, representing more than half of all classified advertising.

    While Telstra has stated its aim of moving into new classified areas including recruitment and real estate advertising, its main media competitors suggest Sensis first needs to protect its 400,000 mainly small-to-medium enterprise advertisers, the main source of its massive Yellow Pages revenue stream.

    This revenue is under concerted attack from paid search advertising products from Google and Overture, which allow companies to sponsor key words on their search engines in order to generate online search results prioritised according to advertisers in each category. Overture’s service mixes relevant advertising and editorially generated links while Google’s paid links appear on one side of the screen. The benefits for advertisers are the low cost of entry and a known up-front cost per click, generating a measureable number of qualified leads.

    “(Sensis’s) business is going out the door very fast,” one competitor says. “People are going more naturally to the internet for things they need to know.”

    Effectively, Sensis’s directories will provide the local information for its new search service, the LookSmart acquisition will provide Australian web information, which Sensis will augment, and an alliance with Yahoo’s Inktomi will provide the global internet feed.

    Hitwise vice-president of search Gavin Appel says the Sensis launch could boost the demand for localised search information.

    “There is a gap in the (Australian) market,” Appel says. “Sensis has got all the features that are required for an effective local search product.”

    He says despite the heritage of the White Pages and Yellow Pages brands, the new site will effectively be starting from scratch and will need to be heavily promoted in order to attract traffic.

    Overture’s Mel Bohse says traffic is the main problem facing Sensis.

    “The search model works on volume of search or distribution,” Bohse says. “The absolute key (for advertisers) is how much traffic I can provide them.”

    This is a foretaste of the battle that will loom in all the markets between the search engines and the local yellow pages/classifieds media companies.

    Mobile Game Consoles

    Peter Lewis of Fortune takes a look at the new consoles from Sony and Nintendo:

    Sony unveiled its long-awaited PlayStation Portable (PSP), which won’t show up in the U.S. until next spring. Nokia revealed its N-Gage QD, a phone-and-games device that fixes many of the problems that doomed the original taco-shaped N-Gage. Microsoftcue the Darth Vader soundtrackbragged how its software could link all sorts of mobile devices to an Xbox console. But it was Nintendo, long the leader in handheld gaming, that stole the show.

    Nintendo’s mobile devicecode-named the DSis double the fun of the current Game Boy Advance. Due to hit stores this year, the DS is Nintendo’s answer both to Sony’s planned PSP attack on its handheld monopolymore than 150 million Game Boys have been soldand to the threat from games played over ubiquitous mobile phones. Although the DS and PSP aim at different marketsanalysts expect the PSP to cost between $300 and $500, vs. less than $200 for the DSthey will inevitably be compared.

    Let’s start with the PSP. It has nearly the same graphics-processing power as a PlayStation 2 console, packed into a sleek, black deck that’s about seven inches wide, three inches tall, and less than an inch thick. It weighs nine ounces. Most of the device’s face is taken up by a 4.3-inch LCD display in the widescreen ratio favored for watching DVD movies. That’s no mistake: Sony sees the PSP as much more than a game device. Its universal media disc, or UMDa new mini-CD that stores 1.8 gigabytes of audio, video, or datawill let Sony distribute feature films, music-concert videos, and other copy-protected entertainment for the PSP. Yet even if the PSP doesn’t instantly catch on as a handheld media center, it will be a force in gaming: Just about all of the world’s major videogame companies have signed up to produce games for the device. The PSP has built-in 802.11b Wi-Fi networking for surfing or multiplayer gaming, a USB 2.0 port for transferring files or adding peripherals like USB digital cameras and keyboards, and a Memory Stick Duo storage-card slot.

    The Nintendo DS prototype got the biggest cheers from the audience. Slightly larger than today’s Game Boy Advance SP, the DS has dual slots to accommodate GBA cartridges as well as new postage-stamp-sized DS cartridges. It has dual backlighted LCD color screens, one in the top part of a clamshell lid and the other in the base. The screen in the base is touch sensitiveopening the way for games that involve, say, drawing or manipulating objects with a stylus. Just stab at the villains instead of shooting them! There’s also a microphone, raising the tantalizing possibility of voice-activated games.

    The DS incorporates two forms of Wi-Fi wireless networking, one the standard 802.11b (hello, Internet), the other proprietary to Nintendo. The latter system can allow as many as 16 DS-toting friends to play one another or, thanks to the touch-sensitive screen, to exchange handwritten notes or drawings. It could be the biggest advance in classroom cheating since the PDA.

    An article based on a conference organised by Stanford Business School looks at the challenges facing the gaming industry:

    Obstacle 1: Rising costs, short life cycle. A video game is typically made for seven different platforms (computer, console, etc.) and distributed in three major North American markets, said Doug Lowenstein, president of the Entertainment Software Association. Yet its life cycle on the market may be only six weeks. That’s one shot at success, with a very expensive bullet. How expensive? Making a next-generation immersive role-playing game might cost $20 million to $30 million, said Moore. The figure is lower for sports games, “where you can keep the engine going a few years,” he said.

    Obstacle 2: Piracy. The industry is essentially shut out of 90 percent of the world-regions like China, Russia, Eastern Europe, and the Middle East, where the black market predominates. Opening up these markets with effective international laws and firm enforcement is “a big, long-term challenge,” said Lowenstein. “But it offers hope of building more volume for more titles in far more markets than we’re able to compete in now.”

    Obstacle 3: Talent pipeline. “Our biggest problem right now is [finding] talentin particular, executive producers who have background in both engineering and art and all the other things you need to do to make video games,” said Brown. “That is a very, very scarce commodity, and I do not see the pipeline to fill it.”

    Obstacle 4: Cultural backlash. “We have some extraordinarily violent content today,” acknowledged Lowenstein, who has successfully negotiated regulatory challenges in the past. “In five to 10 years, it will be almost indistinguishable from reality. If you get to a point where the people you’re killing in these games look like your friends, we may face a renewed threat to our medium.”