iPod Popularity

Newsweek writes that “in just three years, Apples adorable mini music player has gone from gizmo to life-changing cultural icon.”

To 3 million-plus owners, iPods not only give constant access to their entire collection of songs and CDs, but membership into an implicit society that’s transforming the way music will be consumed in the future. “When my students see me on campus with my iPod, they smile,” says Professor Katch, whose unit stores everything from Mozart to Dean Martin. “It’s sort of a bonding.”

The glue for the bond is a tiny, limited-function computer with a capacious disk drive, decked in white plastic and loaded with something that until very recently was the province of ultrageeks and music pirates: digital files that play back as songs. Apple wasn’t the first company to come out with a player, but the earlier ones were either low-capacity toys that played the same few songs, or brick-size beasts with impenetrable controls. Apple’s device is not only powerful and easy to use, but has an incandescent style that makes people go nuts about it.

Fans of the devices use it for more than music. “It’s the limousine for the spoken word,” says Audible CEO Don Katz, whose struggling digital audiobook company has been revitalized by having its products on Apple’s iTunes store.

China Internet Growth Slows

WSJ writes:

The China Internet Network Information Center, a semiofficial think tank, said the number of Chinese Internet users at the end of June was 87 million, up 9.4% from the end of last year, and 28% more than in June 2003. Both of those percentage increases are the smallest since collection of statistics on Chinese Internet use began in late 1997.

As of the end of June, just 6.6% of Chinese regularly access the Internet, compared with more than 70% of Americans. In the year ended in June 2003, Internet use grew 48%, while in the year ended in June 2002 it expanded 72%. China, home to 20% of the world’s population, accounts for 12% of Internet users world-wide.

While the majority of Chinese Internet users — some 51 million — still use dial-up connections, broadband connectivity has skyrocketed, the study found. The number of broadband users at the end of June grew 79% from the start of this year to 31 million and rose more than threefold from June 2003.

Industry executives attribute the overall slowdown to the Chinese government’s tighter management of publicly accessible computers and to the growing prevalence of mobile phones doubling as data and message devices.

With more than 300 million cellphone users in China, the use of short messaging service, or SMS, “has emerged as the affordable and democratic way to reach someone in real time,” says Hu Wei, Internet analyst for BDA China. With nearly one billion text messages getting sent each day, more and more Chinese are turning to their cellphones not just to chat with friends, but to receive updates and other content they might otherwise seek online.

In comparison, India has about 20 million Internet users and 35 million cellphone users.

Network Security

News.com (Jon Oltsik) writes about the need for a new outlook to security:

Fast-forward to 2004, and network security looks a lot like the host-based computing landscape of the early ’80s. Network security is based on scads of individual boxes and limited integration. What’s more, network security isn’t really part of the network; rather, it is an overlay on top of the network. Talk about inefficiency!

This federated approach to network security was sufficient 10 years ago, when companies had limited Internet access for low-priority activities, but this is no longer the case. Fragmented security architectures are a liability today, because they are expensive, an operational burden and can’t provide adequate security protection. Otherwise, they’re great.

Given the growing scope of threats and the limitations of current security architectures, a new model is warranted that integrates security functionality across the network. To borrow from Sun Microsystems, in the future, “the network is the security.”

Cellphones become Mini-Computers

The New York Times writes about how cellphones are becoming bigger, more powerful and multi-functional:

The cellular industry’s long pursuit of ever-more minuscule phones has shifted into reverse, giving rise to bulkier wireless handsets with larger color screens and small versions of standard qwerty-style computer keyboards to send e-mail and instant messages.

The multifunction devices are beginning to find an audience beyond gadget lovers, according to cellular executives, who hope to put their digital wireless networks to use for more than voice traffic.

Cellular executives say they think that a market previously limited largely to business travelers and technology enthusiasts will broaden as networks add digital audio and video entertainment services to their offerings.

“This has been a niche but we have high hopes for a range of devices coming out right now,” said John Clelland, a senior vice president at T-Mobile, a cellular carrier with more than 13 million subscribers. The arrival of the qwerty-style cellphones, which allow users to enter text quickly, using their thumbs, can be traced in part to the arrival of faster digital networks and to the United States audience’s preference for computer keyboards, industry executives said.

Danger, based in Palo Alto, has created an online service to support its Sidekick handset. The company reports a significant increase in its customers’ use of digital Internet services.

Last week, the company – which now has about 200,000 subscribers, according to industry analysts – said that each day, its average user sends 182 instant messages, receives 25 e-mail messages, makes or receives 17 phone calls, sends 8 or 9 short text messages and browses 24 Web pages.

“We’ve proven that messaging is a key ingredient of communications,” said Hank Nothhaft, Danger’s chairman and chief executive.

Tim Bray Interview

Excerpts from an interview with Sun’s Tim Bray:

A lot of useful information, such as stock market portfolios and credit card transactions, arrives at unpredictable intervals. RSS users don’t need to repeatedly visit their favorite web sites to check for updates, because when the site changes, they are notified quickly with a summary of what’s new. To know when one of your investments changes substantially in price, or to be able to track debits in your bank account, is inviting. Possibilities abound. RSS might be useful for tracking change requests during a software build or for bug tracking. So, there’s a lot of information that people would like to be automatically notified about.

.NET was created by a company with a historic focus on desktop applications. My view, though somewhat controversial, is that delivering applications through web browsers versus through custom applications is much preferable. And the CIOs of the world generally agree with me about this, because maintaining desktop applications increases total cost of ownership. It’s much easier to deploy, maintain, and update server-based applications and interact through a web browser. And when the web browser appeared in the mid-90’s, its popularity was obvious. People migrated to the browser for just about everything in very short order. Browser-based applications are the sweet spot for the entire industry.

Cellphones and PDAs with Java applications obviously have a role to play. But for the mainstream enterprise, PC/desktop, browser-based apps are the way to go. And Microsoft is all about being a desktop company. They have a place on 95% of the world’s business desktops, and they have an immense depth of experience about desktop applications and how to build and deliver them. And that shows in .NET. .NET has a huge amount of user interface machinery, which is a distraction from where the real sweet spot in business is, which is on browser-based applications.

Very high-performance global applications, such as Google, achieve much of their performance by running in memory, and not using the traditional disk database. Given the decreasing cost and increasing reliability of memory, there’s a growing class of enterprise applications that could run everything out of memory. This is going to require different thinking, both about how we build applications and about the required infrastructure. And since I think that enterprise applications written in the Java language are going to continue to be written in the Java language, we should think carefully about the kind of infrastructure necessary to support 100% memory-resident applications. I hope to work with people at Sun on this, and perhaps build some prototypes on my own.

Croquet and Squeak

[via Roland Tanglao and Ted Leung] From Croquet Project:

WHAT IF…

…we were to create a new operating system and user interface knowing what we know today, how far could we go? What kinds of decisions would we make that we might have been unable to even consider 20 or 30 years ago, when the current set of operating systems were first created?

…we could collaborate with one another in an online dimension to create or simulate anything we wanted to?

…we had the robustness of a 3D immersive technology, the diversity of the Internet, and the degree of social interaction we have in the real world?

Enter Croquet.

CROQUET IS…

…a combination of open source computer software and network architecture that supports deep collaboration and resource sharing among large numbers of users. Such collaboration is carried out within the context of a large-scale distributed information system. The software and architecture define a framework for delivering a scalable, persistent, and extensible interface to network delivered resources.

The integrated 2D and 3D Croquet interface allows for co-creativity, knowledge sharing, and deep social presence among large numbers of people. Within Croquet’s 3D wide-area environments, participants enjoy synchronous telepresence with one another. Moreover, users enjoy secure, shared access to Internet and other network-deliverable information resources, as well as the ability to design complex spaces individually or while working with others. Every visualization and simulation within Croquet is a collaborative object, as Croquet is fully modifiable at all times.

Users and groups of users can author and publish their individual resources within a persistent 3D knowledge architecture. They may build any number of private or shared “worlds” instantaneously, making them immediately accessible for others to explore by providing spatial portals. These portals function much like hyperlinks do within the World Wide Web. But unlike the Web, Croquet enables the user to find and get to other individual worlds through the larger context of Croquet’s persistent common spaces.

Croquet is also a complete development and delivery platform. Its infinitely scalable architecture provides it with enormous possibilities as an operating system for both local and global informational resources.

Ted adds: “Croquet is a 3d realtime collaboration engine written in Squeak, which is an open source Smalltalk-80. You can walk through a virtual world, much like many MMORPG’s such as Everquest. The environment was smooth and fairly realistic, which is an interesting accomplishment by itself, given the supposed performance problems of languages implemented via virtual machine. I was more interested to learn that they’ve built a peer-to-peer collaboration architecture which allows their system to be usable.”

TECH TALK: Tech Trends: India Action: Create Contentrix

There is change afoot in the world of content creation and consumption. We are moving from a one-way, broadcast world to one that is two-way, interactive and based on publish-subscribe technologies. Weblogs and wikis make mass publishing very easy. RSS enables the syndication of content such that consumers of content need not go to websites (or weblogs) trying to figure out what has changed. Taken together with other interactive technologies like IM (presence), social networking, FOAF (friend-of-a-friend), the time has come to think about a new content platform, which can better facilitate interaction between groups. This is what Contentrix is about. Think of it as the next-generation content lifecycle management platform.

Even today, email remains the least common denominator in terms of sharing information and for many, even collaborating together with others. For a long time, email has worked well. But today, given the problems caused by spam and virus on one side, and the explosion in messages that overload us, emails limitations are becoming apparent. Simultaneously, we are seeing the emergence in communities of alternative interaction technologies like blogs, wikis and RSS aggregators. These form the building blocks for Contentrix.

Perhaps the most important aspect of the new age content is that of community involvement. No longer does an idea have a finality to it readers can build on it interactively among themselves. I have seen this happen with some of my blog posts. It happens regularly on community forums like Slashdot. Content development has become iterative and continuous. Readers are no longer passive consumers as has happened with most of the media sites. The difference between authors and readers is breaking down.

Contentrix would provide an integrated content creation and consumption platform, built around blogs, wikis, search, social networking, instant messaging, a publish-subscribe backend, syndication and notification via RSS, IRC and visualisation. It would allow any user to create a content vertical, with control on who it is available for (public, private or a closed user group). This would be the foundation on which next-generation vertical portals would get built. Contentrix would be the building block for constructing the Memex.

Contentrix could add tremendous value to a weblog by enabling the community to start discussion threads around blog posts. It could enhance a corporate website by providing an RSS feed of the updates thus allow near real-time notification to interested readers. For specialised vertical sites, Contentrix would provide an out-of-the-box solution to leverage the knowledge of the readers and build in reputations. For enterprise Intranets, a platform like Contentrix would offer a bottom-up mechanism to create an information flow which can amplify the knowledge embedded in the staff.

Contentrix does not exist in its entirety. The various elements needed to make it happen do. Building Contentrix is an interesting opportunity for Indian software companies. It could also be used to create the next-generation Indian portals.

Tomorrow: Always-On World

Continue reading TECH TALK: Tech Trends: India Action: Create Contentrix