VoIP Basics

From Silicon.com:

It’s short for Voice over Internet Protocol.

It’s the practice of using the internet – instead of standard telephone lines – to carry voice communications. It’s also called internet telephony or IP telephony. Using VoIP, when you speak, your voice is converted into data packets that can be routed over the internet just like an email or any other kind of data.

Skype is one popular VoIP download, but the technology takes many forms. The first is software such as Skype, which essentially turns your PC into a phone. You and the person you’re talking to must both use the software and plug a headset or special USB phone into your computer. The second option is plugging your phone into a sort of gateway that then plugs into your broadband modem. This allows you to talk on an ordinary phone and to call people who don’t have a VoIP set up at great discounts. The final option is for businesses, which can use use VoIP for all calls within the company network, and then once calls go outside the company, they can be routed over the internet or over standard phone lines.

The first reason [to care] is cost. Just like it doesn’t cost you anything to send an email, VoIP calls are free or extremely cheap, even if you’re calling internationally. PC-to-PC calls (your first option above) are often completely free. Calls using a gateway are usually cheap too. However, as with standard phone service, different companies offer different rates, so you’ll need to shop around to find the best plan. The savings are perhaps greatest for businesses with offices around the world, who historically have had to pay the highest rates to call during the day.

Internet phones offer features standard phones can only dream of. They work closely with your computer, so you could, for example, receive voicemail messages as email attachments or dial numbers by clicking on a name in your address book. You can also set up conference calls easily and cheaply and have calls to a main number ring on several different phones (a handy feature for businesses). In addition, internet phones aren’t tied to area codes, meaning you can take your number with you when you move or give customers the ability to reach you at a local number when really your office is located far away.

You give up voice quality, for one. This mainly has to do with the loss of data from compressing the voice packets so they can be sent quickly. VoIP technology has gotten better over the years, and the services offered today generally provide an acceptable level of quality – just don’t expect it to be exactly the same as your standard phone. Also, remember, your phone system will be controlled by computers – if the computers crash (as they can do) you can’t use the phone. And you do need an always-on broadband net connection to use VoIP at home or at the office.

Vertical Search

Chris Sherman (SearchEngineWatch) writes:

Though the big three [Google, Yahoo, MSN] dominate search market share now, vertical search sites experienced strong growth over the past year, most notably in the shopping, classifieds and travel categories. This growth is correlated with a concurrent decrease in referral visits from search engines.

In other words, searchers are becoming more sophisticated, and are learning that general purpose search engines are not always the best choice for every type of search, a mantra that we’ve been chanting here at Search Engine Watch for years.

Will the growth of verticals threaten the big three? Possibly, but it’s more likely what we’re seeing is a maturation of the industry that allows for both general purpose search engines and verticals to co-exist. A similar phenomenon occurred with television, with the original major networks dominating the scene until the advent of cable, and the explosion of niche and specialized networks and programming. While the major networks lost share to the specialized services, they still dominate in terms of overall market share.

Also check the discussion on vertical search and a 2000 article on vortals.

Microsoft in China

Newsweek writes how China is changing Microsoft:

Most Western companies still lose money in China owing to bureaucratic meddling, mistrust of foreigners, weak courts and other symptoms of the incomplete transition to capitalism. Even Microsoft, a famously efficient cash machine, admits it has struggled mightily in the country. The company sees its future in international sales and desperately needs to make it in the mother of all markets. To a large degree, Ballmer’s legacy depends on it. For now executives say only that the software giant is not making the profit it should in China.

But there are signs of change: from cars to couture, more Western companies are starting to crack the Chinese code. The outlook is improving for Microsoft as well, owing in part to a 180-degree shift in strategy. On several recent occasions, Ballmer has conceded that China is perhaps the one nation “absolutely big enough” to seriously challenge global computer standards like Windows. Between the lines, it’s now clear that Microsoft is no longer trying to change China; China is changing Microsoft.

For the software giant, the problem with doing business in China comes down mainly to one thing: piracy…Ninety percent of Microsoft products used in China are pirated, and for years the company battled back with its signature mix of bullying and intimidation. But in China, the government has been sympathetic to the pirates and openly hostile to the Microsoft monopoly, and has officially embraced Linux, the free rival to Windows. Cheap software has been critical to China’s economic boom, and Beijing saw no upside to forcing citizens with an average annual income of $1,000 to spend much of it on Windows.

Microsoft’s new China strategy attempts to create a constituency for full-price software, starting with the political and business elite. This means improving customer support for big Chinese companies, helping Beijing develop a domestic software industry trained on and tied to Microsoft products, sharing more technology than it normally would and easing up on buyers of pirated software (but not on pirates). In September, Microsoft made Timothy Chen its new China CEO and the face of its softer strategy. Chen, a 10-year veteran of Motorola China, says he was drawn by a mandate from the topGates and Ballmerto revamp the Microsoft operation. “They all wanted to see an integrated China strategy, a road map,” says Chen. He has dropped “the threatening-letter approach” and focused on recruiting large corporations as paying customers: “If we do that, I think then the legal users will come.”

Better Project Management

Jevon MacDonald and Rob Paterson write:

Conversations are the key: When we have a conference to plan, a system to change, or a topic to research, we need to have conversations around what we want to accomplish. To do this,
we need a project management space that is focused on these conversations.

Project leaders and team members can comment on existing conversations, or compose their own messages in the project space, or in a sub-project. Composing a message is an easier process than sending an email, and it is a more reliable way to communicate information.

DIY PVRs

Yahoo! News had a story about personal video recorders:

“Consumers are becoming aware of the fact they can transform their PCs into entertainment centers that are very powerful and still very easy to use,” said Rakesh Agrawal, SnapStream’s chief executive officer.

At the Web Site “Build Your Own PVR” (http://www.byopvr.com), enthusiasts discuss the intricacies of how to build the most powerful personal video recorders with PC components, how well the latest hardware and software works, and also help the uninitiated to get started.

The site’s tagline is: “Why Tivo when you can Freevo?”

The first step in building a personal video recorder is determining whether it’s worth the effort. The biggest benefits are the ability to record television shows on your PC’s hard drive, watch them on a PC monitor or television, and transfer shows to other PCs or portable devices.

Those features may be overkill for the occasional sitcom watcher. But for TV obsessives, the process begins by upgrading a regular home personal computer with a special PC card that can turn television signals into digital information a computer can understand.

That process can overload some PCs, so more advanced TV tuner cards with hardware “encoding” can take on some of the heavy lifting.

Installing a PC card involves cracking open the case on your PC. Those averse to the idea of touching circuit boards can also find boxes that connect to a PC’s USB port — a far easier undertaking. Enthusiasts seem to prefer USB and internal cards from Hauppauge Computer Works — both available for $200 or less.

The next step: choosing software.

Microsoft Corp. has a special version of Windows for “media center” personal computers that can manage users’ music, photographs, and videos, but it is only available pre-loaded on special PCs.

Two alternatives are SnapStream’s Beyond TV 3, available for download (http://www.snapstream.com) for $59.99 (or $69.99 if you need a CD-ROM), and Frey Technologies LLC’s SageTV 2, for $79.95.

Free options are also available, including MythTV, described on its Web site (http://www.mythtv.org) as “a homebrew PVR project I’ve been working on in my spare time.”

For more, check PVRBlog.

TECH TALK: A Train Journey: Gandhis Journeys

As I sat in the train and thought about the revolution we need to create, my memory suddenly jumped to Mahatma Gandhi and his train journeys across India. I came cross this article by Sandeep Silas on Mahatma Gandhis association with the Railways:

In 1901, Gandhi and Sir Pherozeshah Mehta travelled by the same train from Bombay to Calcutta. Gandhi had an opportunity to speak to him in the special saloon which was chartered for him. The kingly style of the Congress leader did not amuse him.

The session at Calcutta, and his stay with Gokhale prompted him to tour the entire country in a third class compartment, to acquaint himself with the hardships of passengers. The first such journey was from Calcutta to Rajkot, with one day stopover each at Varanasi, Agra, Jaipur and Palanpur. Gandhi did not spend more than Rs 31 on his journey, including the train fare.

Third class travel, he thought, was the mirror to the plight of Indians. These journeys made him realise how India bled. His meagre travel kit comprised a metal tiffin-box, a canvas bag, a long coat, dhoti (loin cloth), towel, shirt, blanket and a water jug.

The sight of a colossus seized by a few people, bound like Gulliver while the pygmies rejoiced, pained Gandhi. His experiences while travelling through India convinced him that swaraj (independence) was the only hope.

The Mahatma was born in a third class compartment of an Indian train. Gandhi preferred the ordinary train-life was closer to him this way. He has recorded vividly that the third class compartments were dirty and arrangements bad. He had an acrid experience of third class travelling on a journey from Lahore to Delhi in 1917. Twelve annas (75 paise) to a porter got him an entry into the overcrowded train through a window. He stood for two hours at night before ashamed passengers made room for him.

When we read about Gandhi, we realise that a lot of his philosophy emerged during the spare time he had while traveling. The train journeys gave Gandhi an opportunity to think and indulge in introspection.

That is the magic of train journeys. They help us make a connection with our own country in which other transportation modes just do not. They also keep us a little removed from the world outside so as to give time to think. It is a pity that as life gets faster, the shift from train to air also takes away a little of that child and dreamer in us.

Train journeys have a unique charm of their own. For me, this particular trip helped consolidate much of my thinking over the past few years and make it contextually relevant to what we need to do in India. Perhaps, the timing as well as the duration made the difference. Whatever it was, all I will say is that each of us at different times need to undertake our own train journey, connecting our past to the future.

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