Centralising Data

Jon’s Radio writes: “Our increasing reliance on network storage makes the need for desktop search less acute than it formerly was. I should add, though, that the core technology of desktop search — that is, noticing and cataloging information events — will only grow more relevant with time. Whether or not your personal information lives on your personal disk, and whether or not the index is built and searched locally, the reading and writing and editing and communication events occur on the client. Pervasive high-performance monitoring of that event stream will help us weave local storage and the cloud into a common information space.”

Software as a Service

David Coursey articulate the reasons:

1. The app provides functionality many businesses need, but isnt terribly different from one company to the next.
2. The service allows customization, but the SaaS model prevents clients from doing too much reinvention. This saves money and grief. It also encourages best practices.
3. The service brings together information from several sources and presents it to the user in a friendly, web-based interface.
4. Hosted services are easier to get running, partially because of the limited customization potential but also because theres no hardware to buy and no software to install.
5. Theres also no software to manage, fix, upgrade, etc. All that is the responsibility of the vendor. Customers get a semi-custom application without having to hire developers and people to keep it running.
6. SaaS costs are predictable and typically usage-based.
7. If the vendor doesnt meet your needs, there usually is no long-term commitment and its easy to switch. This keeps SaaS vendors responsive.

Better Web Searches

Scientific American writes:

If search engines could take the broader task context of a person’s query into account–that is, a user’s recent search subjects, personal behavior, work topics, and so forth–their utility would be greatly augmented. Determining user context will require software designers to surmount serious engineering hurdles, however. Developers must first build systems that monitor a user’s interests and habits automatically so that search engines can ascertain the context in which a person is conducting a search for information, the type of computing platform a user is running, and his or her general pattern of use. With these points established beforehand and placed in what is called a user profile, the software could then deliver appropriately customized information. Acquiring and maintaining accurate information about users may prove difficult. After all, most people are unlikely to put up with the bother of entering personal data other than that required for their standard search activities.

Another class of context-aware search systems would take into account a person’s location. If a vacationer, for example, is carrying a PDA that can receive and interpret signals from the Global Positioning System (GPS) or using a radio-frequency technique to establish and continuously update position, systems could take advantage of that capability. One example of such a technology is being developed by researchers at the University of Maryland. Called Rover, it is a system that makes use of text, audio or video services across a wide geographic area. Rover can present maps of the region in a user’s vicinity that highlight appropriate points of interest. It is able to identify these spots automatically by applying various subject-specific ” filters” to the map.

Rojo’s RSS Service

Technology Review writes:

San Franciscos Rojo is one of dozens of RSS aggregator companies. Like some of its competitors, Rojo has an RSS feed search function and gives readers the ability to flag stories they find important or interesting. But in enabling users to draw on the insights of friends, family, colleagues, and others in their social networks, Rojo departs from most of the competition. Rojo users can invite others to sign up for Rojo accounts; those accounts are linked, much like the accounts on the popular website Friendster. Rojo users can see what RSS feeds the members of their networks are reading and which stories they are flagging. Network popularity also affects the ranking of results when the user searches RSS feeds. We all depend on our community for content discovery, says Chris Alden, Rojos cofounder and CEO. Any successful media service has to tap into that.

Alden says Rojo is the first company to combine RSS aggregation with social networking, but it probably wont be the last. Rojo is one of a growing number of companies turning social networks into a tool for better managing and sharing online content. Of course, the makers of longer-standing RSS aggregators like Bloglines predictably point out that Rojo is missing a lot of features that their own services provide and charge that Rojos website isnt easy or intuitive to use.

News.com adds:

Rojo, a San Francisco start-up in the blog aggregation business, “is wrapping a communications capability around content consumption,” said Andreessen, Web browser pioneer, Rojo investor and Opsware chairman. “And the killer app for the Internet is and always has been communication.”

Like Google’s PageRank algorithm and other search engine technologies, Rojo examines the link structure of the so-called blogosphere in order to call attention to blog items and feeds that have proved popular with other readers. Along the same lines, it follows e-commerce sites like Amazon.com in recommending related feeds.

And like social networking sites such as Friendster, Rojo narrows down the community of blog readers to those within a user-defined network of friends and associates.

Mobile Phones Dial PCs

News.com writes:

Electronics giant Toshiba said [last] week it has developed software that lets cell phones use programs stored on most home computers, a breakthrough that further erases the divide differentiating the two devices.

Phones with the “Ubiquitous Viewer” software can read e-mail stored on a PC, open a document or even use the PC’s Web browser to view Web sites. The only requirement is that the PC uses Microsoft’s Windows operating system.

Japanese carrier KDDI will debut the software in March. The company said other wireless operators have expressed interest, but did not disclose further details.

The software is another example of how cell phones are catching up to personal computers both in features and functionality, mainly due to breakthroughs in chip designs that have let manufacturers pack handsets with more power to process data. Modern-day handsets have the computing punch of a late 1990s desktop computer. About half a decade ago, mobile phones were the size of bricks and did little more than make and receive calls.

“It offers users real-time PC access at all times, whether they are sitting in a park or traveling on a train,” Toshiba said in a statement. “Ubiquitous Viewer is a breakthrough software innovation that bridges the gap between mobile phones and PCs.”

TECH TALK: Microsoft, Bandwidth and Centralised Computing: Utility Computing in Emerging Markets

Consider an emerging market like India. Think of all the places computers could be used and are not, and think of all the services that computers could enable. (After all, what people need is not a quarter-inch drill, but a quarter-inch hole.) From providing basic computing for the current non-users in enterprises so that the common denominator shifts from paper to electronic process to enabling learning-centric education in schools and colleges, computers can help lay the foundation of real-time enterprises and build the foundation for dramatically enhancing the capacity and quality of the educational institutions. In addition, by providing an interface between government and citizens through neighbourhood computing centres in both urban and rural India, computers can remove pain points from peoples lives in their interaction with the state. Finally, by providing a platform for basic computing, communications, entertainment and education, computers can be at the top of the must-have list for the growing Indian middle class. Computers can thus lay the foundation for our increasingly digital life.

But this is not going to happen with the current architecture and business model of the computer industry. The next users are much less savvy about managing their own systems. Affordability is another challenge both of hardware and software. Without the necessary base of computer users, local software developers and content providers do not have an incentive to create relevant solutions. In short, there is a market failure. What can we do to shift the market to a higher, better equilibrium? This is where centralised computing comes in.

By shifting processing and storage to centralised servers over broadband connections, the user access devices can now be simplified and made cheaper. Because the devices are now network-centric and require zero-management, service providers can now consider bundling them as part of a whole solution one that combines the device, network connectivity, services and support. The service provider relationship can be extended to also include a billing relationship this way, value-added services from third-party providers can be layered on top of the basic offering. This creates the necessary ecosystem for everyone to thrive.

From a customer perspective, a large capital expenditure is converted to a smaller monthly payment on a usage basis. Also, there is no hassle of managing the device. In other words, one can start using the digital car without becoming a new age mechanic! From a network provider view point, it now becomes possible to leverage all the back-haul fibre and other infrastructure that has been deployed by getting a large number of users very much like what has happened in the telecom industry. In fact, network providers in India are likely to also look at triple plays combining voice, video and Internet access via the network commPuter. Finally, for the service providers (the software and content developers), there is now a way to get compensated rather than ripped off!

The world of centralised computing will thus usher in the next-generation utilities. Just like previous utilities which brought transportation, water, electricity and telecom to transform the lives of the masses, so also this utility has the potential to realise the hidden potential of todays forgotten masses in emerging markets.

Tomorrow: What should Microsoft do?

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