Bus. Std: The Coming Age of Teleputers

My latest column in Business Standard:

George Gilder, a technology evangelist and author of the book Telecosm: The World After Bandwidth Abundance, coined the word teleputer many years ago. He thinks of it as a handheld device that’s a fully functioning personal computer, digital video camera, telephone, MP3 player and video player…Epitomized by the multipurpose cell phone handset or personal digital assistant, the teleputer is optimized for ubiquitous connectivity…[It] will be as portable as a watch and as personal as your wallet. It takes pictures or videos and projects them onto a wall or screen or onto your retina and transmits them to any other digital device or storage facility.

While the complete functionality of the teleputer as described by Gilder is still some time away, there is little doubt about the direction we are headed in. This is very important from the point of view of users in the emerging markets. For many, it is the mobile phone, rather than the computer, which will provide the first glimpse of the Internet and Web.

This is what Jonathan Schwartz of Sun said after his visit to 3GSM: The majority of the world will first experience the internet through their mobile phones. We sometimes forget that 10 times as many people bought handsets last year as PC’s. Round numbers, there were a BILLION wireless devices sold last year, and around 100 million PC’s. To that end, the odds are much higher you’ll watch broadcast broadband content on your phone than on your PC – and now that Nokia (and their peers) are the world’s largest camera manufacturers (just think about that for a moment), the odds are far higher you’ll even create broadband content on your handset…Another interesting meeting was with the CEO of Oberthur, who predicts we’ll see 1 GigaBYTE SIM cards by years end – that’s right, a Gig on an interchangeable SIM card. For extra credit, what happens when a significant portion of that memory is executable? That’s a mighty small computer.

Mobile Phones are also being hailed as the key for development. The Economist wrote recently (March 10 issue): Plenty of evidence suggests that the mobile phone is the technology with the greatest impact on development. A new paper finds that mobile phones raise long-term growth rates, that their impact is twice as big in developing nations as in developed ones, and that an extra ten phones per 100 people in a typical developing country increases GDP growth by 0.6 percentage pointsAnd when it comes to mobile phones, there is no need for intervention or funding from the UN: even the world’s poorest people are already rushing to embrace mobile phones, because their economic benefits are so apparent. Mobile phones do not rely on a permanent electricity supply and can be used by people who cannot read or write.

The Economist has got one-third of the story right. There are two more points to be considered:

  • Multimedia-enabled thin clients: Think of them as phones with bigger input/output capabilities and options to connect multiple peripherals. These thin clients will have the same internal specs as the phones.

  • Grid Services: There is a need for centralised applications and data storage. Because of the wireless connection, a cellphone can connect to the network. All the heavyweight lifting is done on servers.

    Thin clients and mobile phones will complement each other what is needed between them is seamless mobility. This is where the “virtual desktop” comes in — one can start reading a book on a mobile phone, and continue reading it on ones thin client, and then perhaps back on the phone. All of this is possible if the state (what the user is doing) is stored on the server.

    This is how commPuting (communications and computing) in emerging markets will look like in the future. Both the multimedia-enabled thin clients and tomorrows mobile phones are examples of teleputers. They have the potential to transform life and work. This is a world where each of us will have a personal device and networks will be ubiquitous. Bringing this world to life is where the next set of opportunities lie.

    What is inside todays desktop computer will move to the server and what is inside a cell phone will power tomorrows network computer. The networks will be IP-based. Voice will become yet another service over these digital networks. The mobile phone will be our constant companion, and will be complemented by the availability of network computers with large screens.

    Services will occupy centre-stage. From commPuting to computainment to communicontent, it will be a world that will converge at the back-end (server-side) but will diverge at the front-end (multiple devices). While there will be no convergence across these screens, the convergence will happen at the back-end with respect to the data store. We will have different views to the same set of data across these devices along with seamless mobility. Welcome to the age of teleputers and service-based computing.

  • Grid Computing Drivers

    IBM’s Ken King says in an interview:

    There were developments in at least five areas that drove the Internet 10 years ago and Linux five years ago. We are seeing the same patterns, now, emerging with grid computing.

    No. 1: ISV adoption. Ten years ago, you saw ISVs begin to aggressively develop Web-enabled applications. Five years ago, ISVs began delivering applications on top of Linux. We are now seeing the same type of pattern with grid. We had 30 ISVs grid-enable their applications last year, and we’re going after another 50 this year.

    No. 2: maturation of the open source community within grid. You saw the Univa announcement. You saw the Consortium announcement. You’re starting to see things put into place for grid that weren’t there a year ago — things that you saw 10 years ago with the Internet and five years ago with Linux. The more the open source community matures within grid, the more it can be leveraged to drive standards. Once you achieve that, grid will take off.

    No. 3: standards. You’re starting to see convergence with Web services standards. The more that happens the more you see grid adoption by ISVs and acceptance by customers.

    No. 4: the movement of customer adoption from universities and science implementations to commercial customers. Right now, it involves implementations specific to a single customer line of business, but the overall movement into the commercial enterprise is accelerating, and we will see more commercial customers implementing grid across their enterprises over the next two to three years.

    No. 5: technology. We’re starting to see maturation of the technology in such areas as data virtualization, provisioning capabilities, and scheduling capabilities. We will also be seeing some significant advances in license management, metering and billing, which are key technologies for implementing grid solutions across the enterprise — which we like to call “enterprise optimization.” Are we there yet? No, but it is coming quickly. The patterns are accelerating, much as they did with the Internet and Linux.

    Open-Source Software for Business

    SiliconBeat lists the software SpikeSource uses to run its business – all open-source.

    They run their whole website using OSS. Features include:
    – discussion forums – PhpBB
    – trouble tickets – OTRS
    – Naming directory – Open LDAP
    – Web Server – Apache
    – Servlet container – Tomcat
    – Database – MySQL
    – Search – Nutch

    They use OSS on intranet. Here is the list:
    – MoinMoin wiki for capturing processes, policies, feature requirements, evolving design etc.
    – Bugzilla for bug tracking
    – Subversion for source code versioning
    – Intranet Portal – JetSpeed
    – Web email client – SquirrelMail
    – Naming Directory – OpenLDAP
    – email server – Courier-IMAP

    Desktops:
    – Operating System and desktop – RHAT, SuSE
    – email client – Ximian Evolution
    – desktop productivity tools – Open Office
    – Browser – Mozilla, FireFox
    – Source code editor – Eclipse

    Customer relations:
    – SugarCRM

    Bottom-up Innovation

    WorldChanging has a post by Jeremy Faludi:

    Doors of Perception is a biannual conference put on by the Dutch ministry of Education, Culture and Science; it is a collection of designers, technologists, and other creative people from diverse fields. This year it is held in Delhi, and the theme is Infra, meaning infrastructure, but its about a range of ways in which technology and innovative design or ideas can help international development and general worldchanging. The first days most interesting presentation was by Solomon Benjamin, a researcher/consultant from Bangalore…

    Benjamin described how the most innovative places in India, the places where new technology and manufacturing starts, are slums. There is almost no infrastructure, and certainly no help from government; in fact, most activity is underground in order to avoid taxes and general governmental disapproval of things that werent part of their plan. These entrepreneurs have no capital, evolving their own methods of financing; they also have no IP law. And yet whole clusters of interdependent companies sprout up making things that are found nowhere else in the country (computer cable mfr.s were his main example).

    And it turns out this phenomenon is not unique to India. He pointed out an example in New York, and I would say the same is true in reverse of Silicon Valley–its explosion of innovative companies created an unplanned, unregulated city-sprawl. Its not a slum, but it does have the highest concentration of Superfund sites in the country. This brings home the point that innovation causes social problems as well as benefits.

    Benjamins talk reminded me of a characteristic of many non-industrialized nations that I think will push India ahead in the future: everything here is patched, hacked, and customized. You have to do that, because theres insufficient infrastructure to support the products you use, and because peoples needs are always far beyond what they can buy. As a result, everyone here is a hacker, meaning everyone is an innovator…Having everyone in your country start with a hacker mindset will help you leapfrog from cheap-labor-source to vital-technology-hub.

    The barrier to such leapfrogging is infrastructure, and as technology become more self-contained, more mobile, more peer-to-peer, infrastructure becomes less and less necessary.

    Coordination, Cooperation, and Collaboration

    Dave Pollard writes that these words “are often used interchangeably. They shouldn’t be.”

    Coordination: Shared objectives; Need for more than one person to be involved; Understanding of who needs to do what by when

    Cooperation: Shared objectives; Need for more than one person to be involved; Mutual trust and respect; Acknowledgment of mutual benefit of working together

    Collaboration: Shared objectives; Sense of urgency and commitment; Dynamic process; Sense of belonging; Open communication; Mutual trust and respect; Complementary, diverse skills and knowledge; Intellectual agility

    TECH TALK: The Future of Search: Information Marketplaces

    By changing how information is consumed, Information Dashboards will also transform the way information is published on the Web. Consider corporate websites, for example. Little has changed in the past decade on how websites are constructed. They are monolith content systems, and very hard to change. Websites were built for the era where users would get to them mostly by typing in or clicking on a URL. Later, they were optimised for search engine crawlers. Tomorrows websites will need to be built for consumption not via URL-based pull but via RSS-based push.

    Tomorrows websites will have two parts: a Wiki-style publishing system which allows for ease of publishing, and a set of RSS feeds which track the changes and make the new content available for distribution. More than site design, it is the content that matters content which needs to be pushed out to interested subscribers in real-time. (Another reason why design is less important is because users view the content in their viewers.)

    Once corporate websites start publishing information via RSS feeds and users start consuming it on their dashboards, it will become possible to do matching at the back-end and then alerting users on their dashboards. We are already seeing this happen via next-generation job sites like Indeed.com. This will lead to the creation of information marketplaces.

    This is what I had written a couple years earlier:

    Imagine if every SME (small- and medium-sized enterprise) can publish an RSS stream (via a weblog) about who they are, their products and services, the new developments at their organisation, their take on industry events, and what they are interested in purchasing. In addition, each of the SMEs should also set up subscriptions based on what they are looking to buy or sell (by keyword or category) or by a company they would like to track.

    So, SMEs do what they would anyways do in search of new business opportunities. By making it easier for them to both publish information and subscribe to relevant information, the Publish-Subscribe Web works as a connector, an information market maker. The product in this marketplace is information; the currency is attention.

    In a sense, sites like eBay are information marketplaces. They connect buyers and sellers. In an RSS-enabled world, intermediaries like PubSub.com can provide the matching and notification platforms for events and deliver them automatically to information dashboards. In a world of information marketplaces, reputation will matter because that is how spam will need to be tackled. Companies and users will be able to build reputation online by also contributing useful information to the marketplace even as they consume from it. Information marketplaces will help the smaller companies connect with other of their ilk a difficult problem today because neither has enough money to reach the other.

    Tomorrow: Memex

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