Google Thin Client OS

Molly Wood thinks that “Google’s going to build a Web-based thin client-type hosted environment-slash-operating system replacement.”

Think about Gmail, which, in a broadband situation, is probably more responsive than Outlook; and Google Maps, which doesn’t show any signs of redrawing as you drag the image all over your screen. That’s the power of Ajax, which removes most of the server communication, almost making you forget you’re using the Web. Now think about what would happen if you had a word processor, a spreadsheet app, a photo editor, an instant messenger, a browser, a music jukebox, and any other “software application” running inside a Web framework that’s as fast and responsive as any desktop you’ve ever used. Now imagine being able to access that environment from any Web-enabled computer (or device), anywhere. Remember Bill Gates saying, 10 years ago, that traditional software was dead and that all software would eventually be delivered over the Internet? Well, I think Google was listening.

Google will not do the hardware: their users have PCs with browsers, with good broadband connections.

Companies like Google and Yahoo will aggregate consumer-oriented services primarily (I think) — their focus will be more on the desktop apps which they feel can be moved to the server with Ajax-like technologies (the kind used for Google Maps). What they do on the Net emerging market users will do on the LAN with the LAN-Grid because bandwidth will still be a challenge in the near-term. On both cases, thin clients and mobile phones (along with PCs with browsers) will be the access devices.

In the enterprise world, there is a need for information mgmt, collaboration, workflow and business process type services. Like the ASP model of the late 1990s. It will make a comeback but the focus will be on helping SMEs with the apps they currently don’t have: ones which can help them automate their business. These apps will be accessible via a browser and delivered via the Net – for a monthly fee. Like salesforce.com in the US. As they start using the apps, they will want more computers because that’s the key to building digital info flows and efficiency within the organisation…this is where thin clients come in.

Ajax Buzz

News.com writes about the old technology that’s suddently become the hottest new thing:

Start-ups and industry giants such as Microsoft continue to devise newfangled systems for delivering desktop-like applications over the Web. But search giant Google has taken a different path, using older technology to build its newest applications such as Google Maps and Gmail.

That’s prompted developers to take a second look at old-hat technologies that have been kicking around on the Web since the 1990s, such as JavaScript and Dynamic HTML.

Those older technologies–such as the JavaScript scripting language, the Cascading Style Sheets recommendation by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) for applying styles to multiple Web pages, and other coding bells and whistles–are sometimes grouped under the marketing term Dynamic HTML, or DHTML.

John Reynolds adds:

The basic message of AJaX is that modern browsers, through a combination of JavaScript and XmlHttpRequest, provide an advanced client that allows you to write rich client interfaces without the need to deploy a plugin.

So far so good, but when you look at the mechanisms that are currently available to take advantage of AJaX, a boatload of JavaScript embedded in an HTML file, you will probably experience a sickening feeling of deja vu all over again.

AJaX totally blows the idea of seperating presentation markup and code snippets. The result brings back memories of pre-custom tag JSP pages… a little puddle of HTML markup embedded in an ocean of Java code (only this time it’s JavaScript).

The promise of AJaX is exciting, but until tools and frameworks automate the generating of “AJaX” we’re back to some pretty ugly and potentially buggy UI code.

Lee Gomes wrote in WSJ: “What’s new is that Ajax lets them do so in a speedier way. In the past, to change even a small part of a Web page required reloading the entire page. But Ajax knows to fetch only the part of the screen that needs changing — like the edges of the Google map window as you move around…Because less information is being sent from the main server, things move more quickly. That takes Ajax applications a big step toward the Holy Grail of having the kinds of speed and responsiveness in Web-based programs that’s usually associated only with desktop software, like Microsoft Office.”

Digital Hospital

Business Week has a story about the Hackensack University Medical Center: “Hackensack is one of the nation’s most aggressive tech adopters. Millions of dollars in investments have paid for projects well beyond the online drug system that tipped off Gross. Doctors can tap an internal Web site to examine X-rays from a PC anywhere. Patients can use 37-inch plasma TVs in their rooms to surf the Net for information about their medical conditions. There’s even a life-size robot, Mr. Rounder, that doctors can control from their laptops at home. They direct the digital doc, complete with white lab coat and stethoscope, into hospital rooms and use two-way video to discuss patients’ conditions.”

RIM Competition

The Economist writes about Blackberry’s competitors:

At the moment, 70% of RIM’s revenue comes from the sale of BlackBerry devices, and the rest from software and services. To broaden its reach, RIM has licensed the BlackBerry software to big handset-makers such as Nokia, Motorola and Samsung, while continuing to sell its own devices. It is therefore both co-operating and competing with some much larger companies, as it navigates the transition to a more software-and services-based business.

Other firms sense an opportunity to offer handset-makers their own BlackBerry-like software instead. This segment is switching from proprietary innovation to standards-based mainstream growth, says Danny Shader of Good Technology, a maker of wireless e-mail software that runs on a wide range of hand-held computers and smartphones. Without a hardware business, Good is not competing with the handset-makers (such as Nokia) that license its programs. Its software, running on Treo and PocketPC hand-helds, is already in use at nearly 5,000 companies, including seven of America’s top ten firms.

Brian Bogosian of Visto, another software firm that hopes to dethrone RIM, claims that mobile operators, like handset-makers, are also ambivalent about the BlackBerry. Many operators that resell the BlackBerry co-branded with their own logos would prefer not to dilute their own brands, he says. Visto offers white label software that runs on almost any device, and can be offered by operators under their own brands. So far, Visto has signed up ten operators, and will announce a deal with one of the world’s biggest operators next month, says Mr Bogosian. Other firms pursuing a similar strategy include Intellisync, Seven and Smartner. Patent-infringement claims abound, underlining the intensity of competition.

If all this were not enough, another threat looms on the horizon: Microsoft, the world’s largest software company.

Solaris 10’s Containers

Jonathan Schwartz writes:

As we scale out these systems, it’s perfectly reasonable to expect greater and greater levels of parallelism. And the good news is not only do Solaris and Java (and most of the Java Enterprise System) eat threads for lunch, but with logical partitioning, we can deploy multiple workloads on the same chip, driving massive improvements in productivity (of capital, power, real estate and system operators).

But let’s not stop there. Simultaneously, much the same inefficiencies described above have been plaguing the storage world. A few years back, “SSP’s,” or storage service providers, began aggregating storage requirements across very large customer sets, providing storage as a service. Most SSP’s found themselves stymied by the diversity of customer they were serving. Each customer, or application opportunity, posed differing performance requirements (speed vs. replication/redundancy vs. density, eg). This blew their utilization metrics. Before the advent of virtualization, SSP’s had to configure one storage system per customer. And that’s one of the reasons they failed – low utilization drove high fixed costs.

So that was the primary motivation behind the introduction of containers into our storage systems. The single biggest innovation in our 6920’s is their ability to be divvied up into a herd of logical micro-systems, allowing many customers or application requirements to be aggregated onto one box, with each container presenting its own optimized settings/configurations. This drives consolidation and utilization – and when linked to Solaris, allows for each Solaris container to leverage a dedicated storage container. Again, driving not simply scale, but economy.

…a customer can now divide any Sun system into logical partitions or containers, each of which draws on or links with a logically partitioned slice of computing, storage and networking capacity. Which presents the market with an incredible opportunity to drive utilization up, and exit being one of the most inefficient (and environmentally wasteful – where are the protests?).

Which is a long way of saying the internet is the ultimate parallel computing application – millions, and billions, of people doing roughly the same thing, creating a massive opportunity for companies that solve the problems not only with scale, but with economy. A unit of computing has been detached from a CPU, to whatever a baseball fan wants at MLB.com. Or a bidder wants at eBay. Or a buyer at Amazon. Can you imagine how big a datacenter MLB.com would have to build if we were still in a mode of thinking each customer got their own CPU?

TECH TALK: The Future of Search: Tags

When I first came across del.icio.us and its use of tags, I found it quite flimsy. But as time has elapsed, I have come to believe that tags have the potential to dramatically change the way we look at information and in the process, lay the foundation for the Memex. David Weinberger puts in nicely:

Del.icio.us kicked “tagging” into gear by giving us a reason to tag stuff. It’s a bookmarking site: If you come across a page on the Web that you want to remember, you post the URL to your personal page at del.icio.us. On the way, you tag it with a word or two that will help you find it among the mass of bookmarks you accumulate on your del.icio.us page. The kicker is that everyone else can see not only what you’ve bookmarked but all the bookmarks that share a particular tag. You can even subscribe to a tag as an RSS feed. For example, I subscribe to the tag “taxonomy,” so every time I go into my blog aggregator, I see a list of new pages to which people have applied that tag. You can also see tagging at work at Flickr, a photo post-and-share site that lets you tag your photos or (with their permission) your friends’ photos.

Folksonomies are different in important ways from top-down, hierarchical taxonomies the shape we’ve assumed knowledge itself takes.

The old way gets some experts together who create a nested tree of concepts into which everything in a particular domain can be slotted. Think of the Dewey Decimal System. Think of the Tree of Life. The new way invites users of information to add a word or three to the objects they want to find again.

The old way provides the vocabulary we are to use. The new way lets us use our own words.

The old way puts the control of the classification system in that hands of the owners of information classifying it. The new way gives control to the users of information.

The old way creates a tree. The new rakes leaves together.

This is not an either-or. The old way trees make sense in controlled environments where ambiguity is dangerous and where thoroughness counts. Trees make less sense in the uncontrolled, connected world that cherishes ambiguity.

In our world of events, we can publish tags for things we see and want to keep for future reference. We are doing it for our own good, but if we share it with others, a sort-of emergence effect builds structures that no single individual can. We can also subscribe to tags think of this as a sort-of search across our subscriptions or the wider world outside. RSS ensures that we are alerted any time something new comes across and is appropriately tagged.

Tags are the wisdom of crowds. There is every reason for them not to work. And yet, they do. Along with subscriptions, tags are the other fundamental building block of the event-driven interface of tomorrow.

Tomorrow: Discovery

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