Linux Desktop Future

ACM Queue (Bart Decrem of OSAF) “takes stock of where the Linux desktop stands and looks at remaining obstacles to broader adoption of Linux on the desktop, how Linux can meet the new challenges created by Microsoft’s plans for Longhorn, and opportunities to get ahead of the curve around collaboration-centric computing.” What’s the future?

What do Chandler, the Dashboard, and Mozilla have in common? They share a focus on integrating the Internet into a rich client environment in innovative ways. They are breaking information out of its traditional silos. They are working to build applications that adapt to the user’s needs, rather than the other way around. They bring information closer to the user and peer-to-peer communication and collaboration. In sum, these projects tap into the power of the desktop while also understanding that a network application framework, which opens up new possibilities for users and offers important cost advantages for developing, deploying, and maintaining software, is a key to success.

Most importantly, they move beyond trying to copy what Microsoft did a few years ago. Each of these projects is breaking new ground and is seeing some of its ideas copied by Microsoft, putting to shame the claim by Microsoft’s operating system chief Jim Allchin that open source is a threat to innovation.14

What’s next? These ideas feeding off each other and linking up with Web innovations such as wikis, RSS (rich site summary) and blogs, and social networks. Stay tuned. The open source community is bringing innovation back to the desktop.

Info Retrieval to Search and Beyond

Ramana Rao of Inxight Software provides an overview of the past few decades in ACM Queue. His four predictions for the future:

RICHER USER MODEL OF INFORMATION SPACE: A large mainstream audience will share a rich conceptual model of the information universe. This model is already common among many who actively use networked information. A central aspect of this model is the essential hierarchical organization of information into universe, libraries, collections, documents, document parts, sentences, concepts, and objects. Crossing-cutting this essentially hierarchical layering is a variety of relationships that will be commonly understood, including references, attribution, and versioning. One key aspect is the understanding of the role of meta-information at each level, which is as important to the use of the information as the information content itself.

RICHER FUNCTIONS FOR INFORMATION USE: the information workspace model. Interaction in the information workspace will be based on three new constructs.

  • Maps. As is the case with physical maps, conceptual and perceptual maps of the universe, collections, and documents will become resources for both understanding overall structures and navigating to specific areas of interest.
  • Digests. Well-designed digests will provide “a little bit, but not too much” information about any objects at all levels of the information hierarchy.
  • Extractors. Operators for analyzing content will allow users to explore text and discover relationships and patterns, as well as unusual or unique occurrences.

    RICH INFORMATION WORKSPACES BASED ON OPEN INFRASTRUCTURE: Our information workspaces will finally achieve the richness, flexibility, and naturalness of our physical workspaces, while integrating digital reach and augmentation. These workspaces will support both individual and collaborative information activities, smoothly integrating information access with information processing, synthesis, and analysis. The workspace will be open, allowing for the easy assembly of standard, common, specialized, and customized elementsmaps, digests, and extractorsand will have access to wide varieties of sources along with standard models of those sources.

    GRANULAR USE OF LINGUISTIC STATEMENTS: With the rise of text mining, I foresee an intersection of two long distinct histories of computational use, one supporting organizations and the other supporting individuals. Enterprise data computingembodied by mainframes, relational databases, ERP (enterprise resource planning), and other enterprise applicationshas been the main driver of big IT technology, while personal computingembodied by desktop environments and applications, communications technologies, entertainment, and other consumer technologieshas supported the individual and collaborative work of humans. I believe that by 2020 the processing of language-based information will surpass the processing of operational data originally captured in structured databases.

  • Why Tech Companies should serve the Poor

    The Red Herring Blog provides three reasons:

    First, countries that don’t have existing infrastructures, legacy systems, or extant markets leaders can adopt radically innovative technologies more quickly than advanced nations. In colonial America, constant labor shortages encouraged entrepreneurs to adopt technologies much more rapidly than their Europe counterparts. The result could be seen in 19th century high-tech centers (the Lowell cotton mills, for example), and in a broader view of technology as a source of strategic advantage.

    More recently, cell phones have taken off in countries that had poorly-developed or slow-moving, government-run phone systems; some countries may leapfrog landline systems completely, and go straight from word-of-mouth to short messaging service (SMS). Many alternative energy technologies in the U.S. are sold as “premium power” solutions for small functional niches, and don’t try to compete against well-established utilities. In countries with poor or nonexistent power grids, in contrast, small-scale power generation, and wind power, biomass, and solar power are serious players.

    Second, the best products created for these markets can have global reach. Chinese appliance manufacturer Galantz, for example, has created a large market by developing kitchen products for middle-class Chinese, whose kitchens are cramped and can’t handle the power requirements of bigger Japanese, European, and American appliances. Those products fit in kitchens all over the world and Galantz now has a 35 percent share of the global microwave market.

    Third, companies serving the poor are going to be the future’s lean, mean multinationals. In the 1950s, Japanese companies like Honda and Sony were producing products for what was essentially a third world country their own domestic markets, which were still rebuilding after being destroyed in World War II. The products these companies created were cheap and robust, and provided the means for establishing a place in European and North American markets: they could sell proven goods there for prices far lower than better-known local companies.

    Today, the wheels continue to turn. Japanese companies still do well in advanced markets, but are facing severe challenges in developing countries like India and Brazil. Korean giants Samsung and LG, for example, have proved serious competitors to Sony in consumer electronics and cellular phones in part because until recently Korea was itself a developing country.

    The Personal Petabyte, The Exnterprise Exabyte

    A presentation by Jim Gray of Microsoft. Writes McGee: “This is a big powerpoint file. On the other, and more important, hand it contains some fascinating ruminations about what some key trends in performance improvement in storage technology and network speeds portend for us as knowledge workers and inhabitants of a digital world. Jim Gray is one of the supersmart folks at Microsoft Research who is thinking a few years out about the world we will all be inhabiting soon. Worth the time to look at and think about.”

    What Makes Consumers Want to Buy the Latest Model?

    A Seenu Srinivasan of Stanford Graduate School of Business has created a model which can help predict the course of product upgrades:

    “The model is quite simple,” says Srinivasan. It is based on how much the benefits of the new product (as compared to the old one) outweigh all the factors that typically hinder a customer’s decision to upgrade. For example, a customer is more likely to buy a new PC if it is significantly better than the one she already owns and if the upgrade seems painless and inexpensive. In this model, the hindrances include not only the upgrade’s various costs (financial, procedural, and psychological), but also expectations about how quickly future technological improvements will be made; consumer characteristics (such as innovativeness); and the consumer’s perceptions of the product in general (such as whether or not it saves time).

    Academicians are excited because the model is an innovative mix of two existing methodologies in marketing science: conjoint analysis and hazard rate modeling. Conjoint analysis, which involves asking a sample of customers from the target market how important they deem different features, has long been used to determine which sets of product features to offer. But because conjoint analysis takes a static snapshot of the marketplace at a given moment, it alone doesn’t answer the sorts of questions intrinsic to product upgrades. Hence the addition of hazard rate modeling, which has traditionally been used to estimate the time difference between a product’s first purchase and subsequent, replacement purchases.

    As might be expected, the greater the gap between the incremental benefit of the upgrade and its hindrances, the greater the probability that the consumer will upgrade within a given month.

    Email Impasse

    Paul Kedrosky writes:

    Why have we reached this email impasse? Largely because email was intended to be the electronic equivalent of a brief hallway conversation. Instead it has become something else altogether, a Swiss army knife of the Internet, with responsibilities ranging from communications, to personal archives, to task management.

    But email does most of those things poorly. Filing is too hard, tasks scroll off the screen in an ever-filling inbox, and personal archives in email are almost entirely unsearchable.

    Increasingly, this has consequences. Companies lose sales because leads get lost or accidentally deleted; lawyers lose correspondence in important cases; software vendors worry about vexing emails hiding in dark corners; and technical support people lose track of ongoing discussions with frustrated clients.

    It will only get worse. People are increasingly reliant on email, and they will be more so once the spam problem is reduced — and once Sarbanes-Oxleys email-retention implications are better understood.

    Everyone complains about email, but does no-one do anything about it? Well, trouble means a business opportunity, so various companies are are promising to make email manageable.

    Stata Laboratories has a product called Bloomba that it is billing as the Google of email. It is, in effect, an email client built around a speedy search tool. Another California company,, has also received favorable press for its high-speed email (and everything) search product.

    A Canadian company is in the mix too. Nelson, British Columbia-based Caelo has a nifty product it bills as an email organizer. While it offers a nice search feature, perhaps Caelo’s most compelling attribute is that it auto-files much of your email into intuitively-derived folders for you.

    Even Microsofts Outlook 2003, which bestrides corporate email like a colossus, has added some useful new organizing features in its latest version. That said, its search remains abysmal and filing in Outlook is only one step above throwing things into random piles on the floor.

    We are over-focused on one shrinking email problem spam only to be confronted with a growing one that never went away email overload. Fixing that one will turn out to be much more interesting and important.

    TECH TALK: Tech Trends:Digital Convergence

    Business Week sets the stage for the world of tomorrow:

    For nearly two decades, industry sages have heralded the coming age of converging digital technology. But it remained an empty slogan. Now, thanks to faster chips, broader bandwidth, and a common Internet standard, technologies are quickly merging. The market for personal digital assistants, so hot in the late ’90s, is vanishing as customers get the same functions in a cell phone — often with a camera to boot. The latest televisions from Royal Philips Electronics and Sony have enough computing firepower to grab streaming video off the Net. “Convergence is finally really happening,” says Gottfried Dutin, an executive vice-president at Philips. “Digitalization is creating products that can’t be categorized as tech or consumer electronics. The walls are coming down.”

    That sets up a collision of three massive industries. In one corner stands the $1.1 trillion computer and software biz, with its American leaders. In another is the $225 billion consumer-electronics sector, with its strong Asian roots and a host of aggressive new Chinese players. The third camp is the $2.2 trillion communications industry, a behemoth that extends from wireless powerhouses in Asia and Europe to the networking stars of Silicon Valley. All three groups will have a hand in building the digital wonders that are headed our way. But none of these industries, much less a single company, can put all the pieces together. They all need help. For this they venture into adjoining territories, where they forge new partnerships and take on new rivals.

    The result is a Big Bang of convergence, and it’s likely to produce the biggest explosion of innovation since the dawn of the Internet.

    As these technologies evolve over the next decade, a new digital world will emerge. Analysts predict that these nascent networks will speed up by an average of 50% a year, the historic norm. That will help the U.S. catch up over the next few years to where the Japanese and Koreans are today — with far faster broadband and mobile systems that are robust enough for commuters to check for traffic jams and watch soap operas on their cell phones. As networks grow and chips continue to strengthen, companies will work madly to come up with winning products and services. Within the next five years, industry analysts say, practically every machine in the wide realm of communications — every gadget that sings, talks, beams images, or messages — will sport a powerful computer and a network connection. And every bit of digital information, whether it’s a phone call, a song, a Web page, or a movie, will flow among these machines in the very same river of data.

    By the end of this 10-year cycle, the change could be extreme. Web pages will snap to life. Hundreds of thousands of political bloggers, fly fishermen, chefs, and Oprah wannabes will be uploading gobs of video programming — creating their own channels. This plethora of Web shows will joust for attention with television fare, Internet radio, video e-mails, and games. All of it will play on televisions, computers, and cell phones, which will be different flavors of the same machine. “The concept of a network or a channel will go away,” says Jakob Nielsen, a partner at technology consultant Nielsen Norman Group in Fremont, Calif. “They’re artifacts of old technology.”

    The networks now taking shape will link together more than 1 billion people, not just with words or voices, but with music, video, games, and commerce. A vast chunk of the world economy is going digital — and for the next few years it’s up for grabs. This revolution won’t quiet down anytime soon.

    Think of the force of digitisation as the mother of all forces the underlying tectonic shift that is creating change everywhere. It has been with us through many years only now have all the various elements started to come together. For example, digital camera phones can convey pictures of loved ones and designs of prototypes across the world in seconds. Digitisation is an abstraction with makes itself real through the pervasive infrastructure that we can see around us. It is the fundamental building block of tomorrows world.

    Tomorrow: India Action: Digitise Education

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