Beyond the Rich Client

Tim Oren writes:

It should be clear that timesharing has been reborn in new clothes. Now we call it ‘salesforce.com’ and ‘Google’. The 3270 of old is now an HTML or XML browser. This interface has absorbed most of the new values of the communications function: Web, blogs, increasingly e-mail. The genre of the Internet are evolving to fit the limits of the browser, for better or worse. The business models are subscription, fee for service, or advertising. With the foundational layers of server software increasingly commoditized, investment flows towards value added services, and once again toward complex calculations – analytics, ad targeting, etc.

The rich client is struggling. In retrospect, the attempt to introduce 3D to the browsing interface in the mid-90s looks like a prelude to its descent. In the end, users wanted simplified access to information more than a ‘richer’ tool that introduced its own set of problems. The same fate has met most attempts to create ‘rich’ client dependencies, often in the service of advertisers. The only domain in which the full client platform is exploited and pushed is gaming. A growing business, but not one on which to balance the whole Windows franchise.

Elsewhere, the client side is stagnant and investment stays away. Though Microsoft apparently recognizes many of the information management problems that the combination of PC and Internet has created for users, its solution – Longhorn – keeps slipping out in time and losing relevance. GMail and other net-borne palliatives are already arriving.

I am not forecasting the death of the PC. Larry Ellison already tried that once. It will be with us for a long time to come, due to its overwhelming scale economies. It will still run all of the tools that we use to create information: Word, Photoshop, Powerpoint and the rest. It will be a terminal for the new timesharing, and a conduit for the Internet as medium. But it is no longer the location of new investment and innovation, and Microsoft’s ability to extract revenue, margins, and strategic advantage must fade accordingly. Joel’s right: The heart of the Windows franchise is rotting.

Web-based Aggregators

Red Herring has an interesting point about Newsgator’s VC funding by Mobius Venture:

It seems, based on conversation with [Newsgator CEO] Greg Reinacker, that the key to his company’s success in winning funding is not the $29 client software it has developed over the last 18 months. Rather, the recent introduction of a Web-based aggregator service that feeds RSS content into email clients has captured the imagination of VCs. This suggests that a new form of portal is evolving, a collection point for information that is delivered to the customer’s computer in a “personalized” stream.

Newsgator’s Web service is priced for significant margins. From $5.95 a month for individual users who want to track a few RSS feeds up to a $49.95-a-month service for business users who wants to track up to 50 keywords on in the universe of RSS feeds and receive up to 50 “premium” RSS feeds. Presumably, if customers want more tracking capabilities there is a price plan for that, too.

Fuel Cells

Dana Blankenhorn writes about Toshiba’s small fuel cell:

Fuel cells last longer between charges than batteries, and they can be recharged with new fuel rather than new batteries, fuel that might be available where batteries are not.

Now Toshiba has entered the technology side of this market. That is the most promising point of the story, not the specifics of what they’re offering.

The fact is this is Toshiba, this is a big company that doesn’t do things halfway. They see opportunity here. So should you.

Toshiba’s play is with a direct methanol fuel cell. The fuel is a form of alcohol, and the cell right now is replaced rather than being recharged. Samsung and NEC are also in the piece of the market Toshiba is targeting. That’s fine.

The point is that the fuel cell market will have many niches, many fuels, many standards and many opportunities. It’s going to evolve very, very rapidly.

Forbes writes about MTI MicroFuel Cells, a division of Mechanical Technology:

[The company] announced plans to push a fuel-cell concept it calls Mobion that can be used in handheld electronic devices like PDAs and smartphones. The result, the company says, will extend the length of time such devices can run on a single charge by three to ten times, compared with a battery of equivalent size.

The basic idea behind a fuel cell is fundamentally different from that of a battery. Batteries store energy using chemicals. Fuel cells instead use chemical reactions to create electricity. MTI builds a type of fuel cell called a direct methanol fuel cell, or DMFC, which mixes methanol and water on one side and air on the other, separated by a membrane.

The problem is the water. In most cases, the water in the process must take a circuitous route in order to be circulated around the power cell where it is mixed with methanol. Moving the water around requires using some complicated pumps that increase the overall size of the power cell and hobble its overall efficiency. MTI’s approach, dubbed Mobian, uses a proprietary method that internally manages the flow and entirely dispenses with the need for pumps.

When the DMFC runs out of power, instead of plugging it in to recharge, you’ll replace it much like you would typical batteries, only less often.

Open Source Paradigm Shift

Tim O’Reilly has an excellent overview of the change and opportunity that the new world of open-source software is bringing. He discusses three key trends:
– The commoditization of software
– Network-enabled collaboration
– Software customizability (software as a service)

He writes: “I like to say that we’re entering the stage where we are going to treat the Internet as if it were a single virtual computer. To do that, we’ll need to create an Internet operating system.” This is what we need to think of in India to make computing a utility.

India: The New Land of Opportunity

Om Malik visited India recently. His article in Business 2.0 captures his views on the changing country and the opportunities: “Thanks to low interest> rates, deregulation, and an influx of 785,000 new jobs at call centers and programming houses, Indian consumers are buying up everything from imported computers and software to cell phones and clothes. According to some estimates, 487 million middle-class Indians will spend an additional $420 billion during the next four years. There are other tantalizing hints that India will become even more attractive as an emerging market for U.S. businesses.”

TECH TALK: Tech Trends: 3. TCO Focus

As spending on IT has increased in enterprises, there has been an increasing attention being paid to the total cost of ownership (TCO) of technology. It is not longer just the upfront cost paid for hardware and software that needs to be taken into account, but the overall cost that goes into administration of the systems deployed. As growth has slowed, increasing attention is being paid to the TCO of technology in organisations.

The four primary costs are hardware, desktop and infrastructure software, business applications and management overheads. This is where three developments can play a significant role:

  • Open-source software, especially on servers, can take care of the basic IT infrastructure in enterprises, making it especially affordable to small- and medium-sized enterprises in emerging markets like India.
  • Server-centric computing, complemented with thin clients, can help reduce the administration costs, along with simplifying the management of desktops.
  • Internet-based application service providers are making available business software-as-a-service, providing an alternative for those less willing to spend large amounts on upfront licence fees.

    Open-source software

    While open-source applications have done very well on the server, attention is now turning to the desktop. A recent story in the Wall Street Journal wrote:

    Open-source software not only is relatively inexpensive, it may require less-powerful PCs for some applications. Frederick Berenstein is chairman and chief technology officer of Xandros Inc., a New York company that sells open-source desktop software. He says one hotel customer installed his company’s desktop software on 150 reservation clerks’ aged PCs at a cost of $5,100. He says the hotel estimated it would have had to spend more than $20,000 to upgrade to Windows XP software and $115,000 for new hardware that could handle it. He declines to name the customer.

    Michael Silver, a desktop software analyst at Stamford, Conn.-based research and consulting firm Gartner Inc., says that some of his company’s large corporate clients think Linux desktops could save them substantial money and work fine for certain classes of users who don’t need the full range of desktop applications. For example, he says, Linux desktops can serve as a cheap alternative for employees who only need PCs for functions like e-mail and for checking their company’s Web sites — workers in call centers, say, who need to check product information and communicate online in-house, but who don’t create documents, spreadsheets or presentations. For these employees, compatibility issues are minimal.

    Linux also has gotten a boost over the past year from some large computer and software sellers that initially viewed it as suitable only for the back office. Among them are HP, which is starting to install Linux instead of Windows on some of the PCs it builds, IBM, and software makers Novell and Red Hat Inc., which have set themselves up recently as providers of Linux desktop programs.

    Companies and independent programmers that work on improving Linux desktop applications have made big strides in making the software look more like Microsoft’s applications, as well as in improving compatibility. With some open-source software, for example, a user has a choice between saving files in an Open Office format or saving in a Microsoft format with the familiar .doc or .xls file extension. That feature means that a Microsoft Word or Excel user can open a file created on open-source software without trouble.

    If anything, the use of open-source software across the organisation is only going to grow, especially in emerging markets where piracy and non-consumption have been the solutions so far.

    Tomorrow: Utility Computing

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