India Internet Action

A lot has been happening of late in the Internet space in India. First, Monster.com bought JobsAhead for Rs 40 crore (just under $9 million). Then Rediff announced 1 GB mail space. Next, eBay bought Baazee for Rs 230 crore ($50 million). A couple days ago, the leading portals got together to form an industry association. and targeted 100 million users by 2007, up from the current 17 million. So, is this a renaissance of the Indian Internet?

I think each of the four events needs to be seen independently. Monster needed to grow its presence and bought out one of its two competitors. JobsAhead was profitable, having clocked Rs 15 crore in revenue and Rs 3 crore in profit for the year ended March 31. eBay needed to get into India at some point of time. It was quite clear for some time that Baazee was going to be part of eBay’s predatory food chain as it expands internationally – the only thing not clear was the time and price. The price is not as high as it seems. Over $20 million was invested into Baazee., some of it is presumably still left. Baazee was the only one in its space, and had built a nice business.

Rediff had little option but to match Google on the disk space ofer, if it was going to keep a significant chunk of its user base, considering the Gmail invites floating around. What is still needs to do is to match Google on the features. It couldn’t possibly have waited till Google formally launched. The industry association is a good thing – at least there will be some lobby power to make the government do sensible things when it comes to things like bandwidth prices and duties on computers.

So, each of the events has a rationale – it just turned out that they cascaded together in the past month. The Indian Internet has a long way to go to match China. The online advertising market is only about $10 million, though expectations are that it could double in the coming year. eCommerce volumes are also quite small. What the Indian Internet is not necessarily buyouts but innovations to make the Net a utility in our lives. That needs the complete commPuting ecosystem to be rethought — the need is for low cost access devices, a broadband infrastructure at affordable prices, and relevant applications and content. There are only minor indications that all of these are happening.

But hopefully, the recent developments will once again see entrepreneurs and venture capitalists getting excited about the space. Because that’s more the new ideas and thinking will emerge.

Net’s Future

BBC News talks to Dr Paul Mockapetris, the inventor of DNS (Domain Name System).

Celebrating DNS’s 21st birthday he says: “Ten years from now, we will look back at the net and think how could we have been so primitive.”

All communication will be over the net, he predicts, and we will no longer need phone numbers, just web addresses.

“Ten years from now, we will wonder how it was so hard to find things on the network too,” he told BBC News Online.

“At best we are at the Bronze Age, we are not even at the Iron Age stage in the network.”

“It is quite possible that phone numbers will have disappeared and people will just use menus off their phone. I don’t think there is particular value in having them.”

A more unified system of identification could mean people do daily tasks, like paying bills, more easily and conveniently.

Searching and finding people are certainly the two areas that still need to develop further, according to Dr Mockapetris, and replacing numbers with web addresses will help that, he says.

“We have to make it an everyday system. We have to make it so that people don’t see it, so that the surfing experience just happens,” he thinks.

Although advanced countries are at the point where most people have net access in one form or another, much still needs to be done so that every man, woman and child on the planet has it all of the time, he says.

Eric Raymond’s Latest

Eric is a noted open-source advocate. Here, entitled “Get the FUD.”

Let’s review what Microsoft is doing. Huw gives us five bullet points:

1. Claim that linux isn’t free.
2. Pretend that Shared source is the same as Open Source
3. Make a big deal about the migration costs of moving to Linux
4. Use the Forrester report to claim that Linux is insecure
5. Belittle the quality of the toolset available on Linux

I’ll take on all of these, but in reverse, saving the most interesting for last. Do I even need to point out that most of the factual claims are blatant lies brought to you by the same people who got caught faking video evidence in their Federal antitrust trial?

Belittling the quality of the toolset available on Linux actually reduces to a TCO (Total Cost of Ownership) argument, because what a poor toolset means to a manager is that he’d have to hire more administrators to cover the same number of machines. I’ll have more to say about winning the TCO argument in a bit.

Use the Forrester report to claim that Linux is insecure. Huw didn’t give a link to Red Hat’s counterargument. It’s a good one, and I’ll build some recommendations for action on it later on.

Make a big deal about the migration costs of moving to Linux. Beating this one is easy. All you have to point out is that migration costs money once, but per-seat Microsoft licensing fees are forever. Unless Linux TCO is substantially greater than Windows TCO, the sooner you switch, the more money you save. (Yes, this remains true even given discounting of future expenses, unless you peg the conversion cost absurdly high.)

The really interesting and novel lines are Huw’s report of arguments 1 and 2: Claim that Linux isn’t free and Pretend that Shared Source is the same as Open Source. Though these have been foreshadowed elsewhere, we haven’t seen these used as headline arguments before, and they add up to nearly a reversal of the position Microsoft has taken in the past. Whereas Microsoft has before tried to claim that its products and licensing are different from and better than and more innovative than Linux’s, now they’re reduced to arguing that you should stick with Microsoft because shared source is just the same as open source. Really. Ignore the attack lawyers behind the curtain.

Linux isn’t free. Hello? If there is actually anyone still left on the planet who thinks the term free software was a good idea, I hope they’re paying attention. Because what Microsoft is doing here is exploiting the old familiar gratis/libre ambiguity of the word free in yet another way. They’re setting up for a claim that free software advocates are lying or deluded because Linux has a nonzero TCO. Therefore, goes the implication, you can’t really trust them about that other freedom thing, can you?

Semantic warfare struggles over the meanings of words as proxies for political or market positions is just like other kinds of warfare; you want to fight it on the other guy’s turf, not yours. Every minute we spend arguing with Microsoft flacks about what free means is a win for them and a lose for us.

This is also why we need to attack the shared in their shared source rather than defending the open in our open source. Fortunately this is easy. We can ask why they call it shared source when they’re not giving up the right to sue people who share it for IP violations. Are they giving anything away except the opportunity to be hauled into a courtroom the next time you do something that Microsoft thinks is competitive with it?