Petfrog: Device for the Future

Frog Design created a device – an “Integrated Fusion Device of the future – for Newsweek’s story on the wireless world:

The petfrog is the first wireless communication and computing concept with a totally integrated hardware, software, and content user-interface. It is a personal computer, PDA, Digital Media player, camera, karaoke machine, and more. All functionality converges into one seamless, human-minded experience platform, which results in an all-in-one gadget that has both professional and personal uses.

The petfrog integrates multiple discrete technologies and standards in computing, communication and entertainment media into one seamless and easy user experience which at the same time is highly sophisticated and personally customizable. It enables the creation of a set of applications that will allow you to:

  • Browse for movies, music, photos and slide shows right from your TV.
  • Listen to your MP3 collection on your home stereo.
  • Watch feature-length movies from the Internet in the comfort of your living room.
  • Use catalogs to quickly access related content.
  • Synchronize – Connect to your Windows based PC and you can take your content on the go with you .
  • Publish – Using the Content Server on your PC, publish catalogs to other users.
  • Browse – Browse through your content on more than one PC or a network.

  • Take a look at some of the pictures on the site.

    Reconfigurable Chips

    San Jose Mercury News writes:

    The promise is that one configurable chip can do the jobs of several standard chips. That could eventually lead to cheaper, smaller and vastly more powerful electronics devices for consumers and businesses.

    But so far, companies such as Chameleon Systems, Adaptive Silicon and BOPS have failed in the quest to bring these complex configurable chips to market. Some companies have been purchased, such as MorphICs of Campbell, which was acquired by Infineon Technologies in March 2003. A few others are struggling.

    Analysts said that while these failures have put a damper on the configurable concept, they are more confident about a new batch of emerging start-ups, including Stretch. Larger companies also are looking at configurable technology. Among them is Intel, whose fastest chips also generate excessive heat. Configurable chips get more work done at slower speeds and thus do not run as hot.

    “With a second wave of companies I am a little more optimistic,” said Jim Turley, president of Silicon Insider, a consulting firm in Pacific Grove. “I think they have addressed the problems such as the scariness and the complexity.”

    A configurable-chip company typically sells software designs that physically change part of a chip’s circuitry design much like an Etch-a-Sketch picture can be erased and quickly redrawn. But the tools that the chip developer gives to potential customers are not always that easy to use.

    Chips developed by these companies can be reprogrammed remotely. For instance, the developer of a cellular base station can make changes to the base station by sending commands through a network.

    Storage Commoditisation

    News.com writes that Intel may be eyeing the storage “white box” market:

    Intel is working with a partner to integrate some storage functions with processor chips, which could speed up performance and cut costs.

    Such a move, over time, could have a significant impact on the industry. Smaller PC and server makers could start to sell their own storage systems by using the fundamental engineering and design work performed by Intel. Conversely, large storage companies such as EMC could feel a pinch in their plans to target small and midsize businesses.

    Data storage equipment can reside within server and PC computers as well as in separate boxes full of disk drives, known as disk arrays.

    Both internal and external storage systems frequently are set up using redundant array of independent disk, or RAID, technology, which allows data to be preserved even if a drive fails. Historically, storage heavyweights EMC, Hewlett-Packard, IBM and Hitachi have focused much of their attention on making high-end external arrays. These products, such as EMC’s Symmetrix, connect to multiple servers for more efficient use of storage resources and improved management. But the machines, which can hold scores of terabytes and include sophisticated data-copying features, can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.

    Storage manufacturers have been paying more attention to the lower end of the market lately. Dell, which has a partnership with EMC to make and sell arrays, recently introduced a networked storage system that can hold up to 3 terabytes and has a starting price of about $5,000. Samsung, which also has a partnership with EMC, is aiming to sell storage equipment to small and midsize businesses in Korea.

    John McArthur, analyst at IDC, thinks there is a considerable market for white box makers focused on bare-bones storage arrays, especially outside the United States, in places like China. “There’s a lot of units in that low-end storage space,” he said. “It is not unreasonable to expect Intel to try to increase their presence in the white box market.”

    Aside from businesses, homes also are seen as a possible new and vast market for data storage products. With consumers storing more and more audio and video files, computer makers have begun selling equipment to hold and manage the data.

    Another factor that may pave the way for an Intel-led charge toward cheaper storage boxes is that a number of storage technologies are becoming commoditized, said David Freund, an analyst with researcher Illuminata. Disk drives are one example, he said. He also pointed to a relatively new disk drive interface, Serial ATA. This is a higher-performance upgrade to the ATA interface common to desktop computer disk drives, and in most cases offers a cheaper alternative to drives using the higher-end SCSI interface, Freund said.

    Freund doesn’t expect Intel itself to go so far as to assemble storage white boxes, but to work with partners, such as Asia-based manufacturers. He suggests Intel could provide chips with integrated storage functions, storage motherboard products and “increasingly complete reference models, including third-party software components.”

    An ex-Microsoft Insider Speaks

    Seattle Weekly has an article by Jeff Reifman who says that “addiction to Windows revenue, mediocre products, and missed opportunities could doom the company.” Jeff “began using Microsoft products 23 years ago, at age 11, and I worked for Microsoft from 1991 to 1999 as a technology manager.”

    Over the past year, my frustration with Windows grew, as did my envy of Apples cool new products. Finally, last month I went out and bought an Apple Macintosh G5 and began using the new Mac operating system, OS X. It had been years since Id used a Macintosh. Until recently, I dismissed those who did as impractical, elitist hipsters, and I mocked the Mac switch ads on TV.

    But in the first five minutes on my new Mac, I was surfing the Internet, sending e-mail, and ripping a CD. OS X has been a breath of badly needed fresh air after Windows.

    This made me wonder about Microsofts willingness to innovate and compete. Why are Microsoft products still so difficult to use and so unreliable? Why is the company improving them so slowly? Is Microsoft losing its competitive edge? Has the company seen its best days?

    The Webs phenomenal growth has driven a number of fundamental changes. And from my vantage, at least, Microsoft seems to have overlooked the most important of those trends. It made a series of missteps, and its not clear if it has learned from them. In protecting Windows and Office revenues, Microsoft has innovated less quickly than it could have. The company relies on the same strategy that helped it years ago come to dominate the personal-computer market with the Windows operating system, despite mounting evidence that its customers are looking for a new approach. Competitors such as Linux and Google are gaining, and Microsoft seems unprepared for the road ahead.

    My take: I think that if Microsoft starts looking at the emerging markets aggressively from a local viewpoint (and not based in Redmond), there are infinitely more growth opportunities. Growth and large opportunities are what Microsoft needs, and its not going to get them easily in the developed markets. With a $56 billion cash hoard (growing at $1/month), there is a lot it can do. I think Bill Gates and some of the senior management team should actually spend some time in India/China and see the pain points of people living there – these are very different from the developed markets. Then, create technology solutions which can make a difference rather than trying to thrust what’s available.

    On a related note, Technology Review has an article on Microsoft’s Beijing Lab, dubbing it the “world’s hottest computer lab.”

    With 150 full-time researchers and more than $80 million from its parent company since opening in 1998, Microsoft Research Asia has become a powerhouse of infotech R&D. Far faster than even Microsofts top brass expected, the Beijing research outpost is influencing the companys global business. More than 70 technologies it developed are already used in Microsoft products, including software for Windows operating systems and graphics packages for Xbox video games. More of the labs latest software is slated for the next version of Windows (code-named Longhorn), due out in 2006.

    The Beijing lab is a key part of Microsofts effort to ensure its global future through research. Its interesting how much of the research directed at the Asian marketplace turns out to be generally applicable, says Rick Rashid, senior vice president of Microsoft Research, which besides its main facility in Redmond, WA, also runs labs in San Francisco, Mountain View, CA, and Cambridge, England. Theyll often attack a problem differently from what would happen in Europe or the U.S., because they come from a different perspective. They often find solutions that are different, and in some cases different turns out to be better.

    News Media and RSS Feeds

    oJR writes that “industry decision makers still have concerns about public acceptance of a technology with no standardization or brand identity. They also worry about losing ad visibility on their own index pages.”

    Today’s online news universe might be divided into outlets that have joined the RSS ranks, ones that have declined and those that continue to take a close look. Without doubt, a mechanism that drives traffic to a site would be beneficial, but what are the downsides? The RSS fence sitters point to several potential problems, specifically, that the technology can:

  • Replicate indexes at off-site locations and divert potential ad audiences;
  • Offer another opening for content aggregators;
  • Confuse mainstream users because it lacks standardization and is still emerging from an early-adopter phase.

    News sites that don’t offer even a front-page headline feed in this online universe risk becoming irrelevant not only to bloggers who can drive traffic with a mention of a story but to increasingly savvy news consumers like Miller who want control.

  • Most of the leading online Indian newspapers and magazines (exceptions: Indian Express group and Rediff) still don’t offer RSS feeds – they need to wake up quickly!

    Copenhagen Consensus

    The Copenhagen Consensus brings together an expert panel of world-leading economists to address 10 major challenges for the world of tomorrow:

    – Climate Change
    – Communicable Diseases
    – Armed Conflicts
    – Education
    – Financial Instability
    – Governance and Corruption
    – Malnutrition and Hunger
    – Population and Migration
    – Sanitation and Water
    – Subsidies and Trade Barriers

    The Economist has a report on what are the recommendations on the panel of economists:

    Ranked first was a package of measures aimed at controlling HIV/AIDS. Next came a set of interventions aimed at fighting malnutrition. The third-ranked policy did raise a few eyebrows, among economists and NGO sceptics alike: multilateral and unilateral action to reduce trade barriers and eliminate agricultural subsidies. In fourth place were new measures to control malaria.

    TECH TALK: Good Books: The Business of Software

    Microsoft Secrets. Competing on Internet Time. Platform Leadership. Japans Software Factories. These are some of the books authored by Michael Cusumano. So how could one can buy and read his latest book, The Business of Software, subtitled: What Every Manager, Programmer, and Entrepreneur Must Know to Thrive and Survive in Good Times and Bad.

    For many (including me), software is our core business. It is the basis on which we are building our dreams of tomorrow. Cusumanos detailed book provides excellent insights into the world and business of software. From the books description:

    The world’s leading expert on the global software industry and coauthor of the bestseller Microsoft Secrets reveals the inner workings of software giants like IBM, Microsoft, and Netscape and shows what it takes to create, develop, and manage a successful company — in good times and bad — in the most fiercely competitive business in the world.

    In the $600 billion software industry it is the business, not the technology, that determines success or failure. This fact — one that thousands of once glamorous start-ups have unhappily discovered for themselves — is the well-documented conclusion of this enormously readable and revealing new book by Michael Cusumano, based on nearly twenty years of research and consulting with software producers around the world.

    At the heart of the book Cusumano poses seven questions that underpin a three-pronged management framework. He argues that companies must adopt one of three basic business models: become a products company at one end of the strategic spectrum, a services company at the other end, or a hybrid solutions company in between. The author describes the characteristics of the different models, evaluates their strengths and weaknesses, and shows how each is more or less appropriate for different stages in the evolution of a business as well as in good versus bad economic times. Readers will also find invaluable Cusumano’s treatment of software development issues ranging from architecture and teams to project management and testing, as well as two chapters devoted to what it takes to create a successful software start-up. Highlights include eight fundamental guidelines for evaluating potential software winners and Cusumano’s probing analysis, based on firsthand knowledge, of ten start-ups that have met with varying degrees of success.

    ADTMag wrote about the book and Cusumano:

    To succeed long-term in the software business it is most important to have structure with flexibility. That is because the potential for change in this field is still so great.

    For vendors, who, admittedly, are not universally loved by users, whole years of revenue gains were washed out. What is going on now? Said Cusumano: I think a lot of the enterprise technologies have become commodity-like. There are lots of players in the same spaces. Theyre competing for functionality, and prices.

    You have low-cost Indian competitors. And you have some packaged solutions. You have some other stuff thats more difficult too, but the availability of low-cost packages – from SalesForce.com, or almost anything from Microsoft — and low-cost services from offshore are just pushing price points down, and thats what companies are struggling with.

    It is like the revolution we had in the transition from mainframes to PCs, he said.

    At the time of client/server computing, the hardware just became so much cheaper that there was this pushback from customers on spending tens of millions of dollars on the software and services side.

    I think we are now in another pushback phase, Cusumano said, where customers dont want to spend millions of dollars on software to run on machines that cost a few thousand dollars. They dont want to pay 20 or 25 percent of the initial license fee in perpetuity for upgrades. They want to pay a lower percentage. We are in the midst of a consolidation.

    In The Business of Software, Cusumano describes the varied paths vendors follow. It is important for buyers and sellers alike to realize, he notes along the way, that software is not really one kind of business. Software becomes whatever function or application it addresses, he writes. Those are the qualities of a unique kind of business, one that often borders on an adventure, one Cusumano covers most vividly.

    Here is an excerpt from the book.

    Tomorrow: The Business of Software (continued)

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